Acetaminophen, the pain- and fever-reducing active ingredient in Tylenol and hundreds of other over-the-counter and prescription medications is the focus of at least 87 lawsuits that have been filed in recent weeks by mothers in nine U.S. states. The lawsuits allege that taking high dosages of the drug while pregnant caused developmental and/or behavioral harm to babies, including autism, attention-deficit disorders and hyperactivity disorders. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs recently asked a federal panel to consolidate their cases in multidistrict litigation due to the fact that the plaintiffs claims are very similar.
With millions of women having taken acetaminophen while pregnant and rates of autism steadily increasing, this MDL, if accepted by the panel, could amount to be the largest MDL in history, even surpassing the as-of-yet resolved 3M faulty military earplug, CAEV2 litigation, which had approximately 300,000 claims.
Nearly two dozen research studies have suggested at least an association between acetaminophen and development problems in babies, including a 2018 study published in American Journal of Epidemiology, which established a 20% increase in autism when pregnant women frequently took a high dosage of the drug.
In the early stages of the litigation, the plaintiffs are going after drug store chains that sell their own branded version of the drug, including CVS, Walmart and Walgreens. There are hundreds of manufacturers of acetaminophen, the largest one being Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Plaintiffs have not named these drug manufacturers as defendants this early in the process.
One possible reason is that there is a wait and see approach as to what happens with J&J’s attempt to escape 40,000 talcum powder cancer cases by unloading its liabilities into a newly-formed subunit and then having that subunit immediately declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy. If that ethically-dubious legal maneuver (called the “Texas Two-Step”) is allowed to stand, then plaintiff attorneys may have a hard time fighting acetaminophen makers.
For the time being, going after drug giants that sell their own branded products is a good way to test the legal waters.
Autism affects one out of every 44 eight-year-old child, according to reporting by Bloomberg News.