Judge Permits Unlimited Damages in Tylenol Bellwether Litigation
Johnson & Johnson will be liable for unlimited punitive damages in a bellwether trial next month alleging that Extra Strength Tylenol triggered acute liver failure leading to a woman’s death, under a federal court ruling.
The May 20 decision by Judge Lawrence Stengel in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, cites an Alabama law that allows for uncapped punitive damages in the case of wrongful death. The woman, Denice Hayes, purchased the Tylenol (acetaminophen), was treated for liver damage and died in Alabama.
Attorneys on the plaintiff’s behalf argued that Alabama or Pennsylvania law applies to the claims on wrongful death and punitive damages. Defendants McNeil and parent company J&J had argued that New Jersey law, which provides minimal, if any, punitive damages, should apply. The defendants are New Jersey corporations, although McNeil is headquartered in Pennsylvania.
Michael Weinkowitz of Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, who represented Hayes’ estate, applauded the ruling.
The case is part of multidistrict litigation, In Re: Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, that includes close to 200 other cases. The Hayes case is scheduled for trial starting June 22.
Another 20 cases are pending in New Jersey state court.
McNeil spokeswoman Jodie Wertheim saysthat acetaminophen has an exceptional safety and efficacy profile when used as directed. — Jonathon Shacat