What is the Tylenol Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)?

What is the Tylenol Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)?

After concerns that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen was causing autism and ADHD surfaced, many parents have decided to pursue compensation for damages related to their children’s diagnoses through Tylenol autism lawsuits. This group of product liability lawsuits against major retailers and acetaminophen drug makers has been centralized into a multidistrict litigation, as of February 2023.

Going forward, new plaintiffs are able to join the Tylenol autism litigation by submitting a short-form complaint, which can help expedite the filing process. This litigaion presents the opportunity for plaintiffs to seek compensation for damages like medical bills and also serve to hold Tylenol retailers and manufacturers accountable for negligence. 

Studies Warn Prenatal Acetaminophen Exposure Can Lead to Autism and ADHD

Studies conducted by U.S. and European researchers have consistently found evidence to support a correlation between pregnant women using acetaminophen-based pain relief drugs and their children developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. In one such study, researchers conducted a metanalysis of other existing studies on this topic. They found that children who had been frequently exposed to acetaminophen in the womb were at 20% greater risk of developing autism, and a 30% greater risk of developing ADHD. 

Another study that relied on data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Birth Cohort Study was able to control for potential confounding factors such as a family history of ADHD and level of acetaminophen exposure. These European researchers found that repeated exposure to acetaminophen in utero doubled a child’s likelihood of developing ADHD.

A group of researchers with Johns Hopkins examined data on the amount of acetaminophen present in umbilical cords after birth in 996 children from the Boston Birth Cohort. Children who had the highest quantities of acetaminophen were at 2.86 times the risk for ADHD and 3.62 times the risk for autism as compared to the children with the least amount of acetaminophen in their blood samples. 

Parents Sue Drug Makers for Negligence in Tylenol Autism Lawsuits

Based on these findings, parents across the country have mounted product liability lawsuits against drug makers and retailers who sell acetaminophen-based drugs. They claim that drug manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and certain retailers, should have provided a warning label alerting pregnant mothers to the risk they were undertaking by using acetaminophen-based pain relief while expecting. 

Plaintiffs argue if they had been aware of the increased risk of their child developing ADHD or autism, they would have been able to avoid increasing their child’s risk of having these chronic neurodevelopmental conditions.

Courts Side With Plaintiffs and Consolidate Tylenol Autism Claims Into Multidistrict Litigation

When a group of people has been similarly injured by the same defendant or group of defendants, they may qualify to have their claims considered as a multidistrict litigation. Plaintiffs requested this action because it allows them to coordinate during the discovery process and rely on the same facts and expert witnesses. 

A group of judges known as the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decides if a group of claims meets the qualifications to be considered a multidistrict litigation. In January of 2023, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation determined that the most efficient and fair way to proceed with the Tylenol autism lawsuits was to consolidate them. The panel assigned the Tylenol autism claims to U.S. District Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York. 

Since taking over the Tylenol autism multidistrict litigation, District Judge Cote has appointed representatives to leadership positions to streamline the process. Additionally, she has appointed a Special Master to assist her in managing these claims, which are expected to grow in number in the coming months.

Defendants Attempt to Get Tylenol Autism Lawsuits Dismissed

The defendants objected to the idea of a multidistrict litigation for the Tylenol autism lawsuits and have since made attempts to get this group of claims dismissed. For example, Walmart, which manufactures its own brand of acetaminophen pain relief drug, argued that the defendants should not be considered negligent because they met federal standards for warning labels.

The basis of their argument was that the U.S. Constitution includes a Supremacy Clause which states that when state law and federal law are in conflict, federal law preempts state law. By meeting FDA standards, they argue, drug makers should not be held liable for neglecting state law. This argument was rejected by Judge Cote because the FDA did not prevent drug makers from adding an additional warning. This decision has been appealed by Walmart.

Most recently, representatives for Johnson & Johnson filed a motion to dismiss, also rooted in a preemption argument. The makers of Tylenol claim that they followed FDA guidelines, which overrule any state laws according to the preemption principle. According to Johnson & Johnson, the drug makers lacked the authority to independently update or add warnings to their acetaminophen products. Additionally, they claim that there is insufficient evidence to support the theory that prenatal acetaminophen exposure causes autism and ADHD.

Types of Damages in the Tylenol Autism Lawsuits

Both ADHD and autism can have a significant impact on how an individual learns, develops relationships, manages their finances, and performs at their job. These conditions present differently in every individual, but many people require some form of life-long support. In the Tylenol autism lawsuits, compensatory damages can help reimburse plaintiffs for the financial value of the long-term damages of ADHD and autism.

Compensatory damages can offer plaintiffs financial relief for both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages have a set price tag and can usually be validated with a receipt. Non-economic damages are calculated subjectively, and they compensate plaintiffs for the value of their intangible losses.

Examples of Damages in the Tylenol Autism Lawsuits:

  • Medical bills
    • Medication
    • Therapy
  • Tutoring
  • Job-related losses
    • Lost wages
    • Reduced earning potential
    • Missed promotions
  • Pain and suffering

Seeking Compensation in a Product Liability Lawsuit

Until quite recently, acetaminophen has been considered the safe alternative to other pain relief drugs like ibuprofen for women to use while pregnant. Making a claim against an established medication produced by major brands and retailers is likely to be a challenge. Plaintiffs must be able to show that defendants owed them a duty of care to provide a warning label, and the companies’ failure to do so breached this duty.

Representatives for the plaintiffs then have the responsibility of offering evidence to demonstrate that the lack of a warning label resulted in their injuries, in this case, their children’s autism or ADHD. Finally, the plaintiffs have to connect the damages they want compensation for to the injuries caused by the defendants. In other words, they must connect their physical, emotional, and financial losses to their child’s autism or ADHD.

The burden of proof rests with the plaintiffs, which means that taking on a product liability claim on your own is risky if you are trying to maximize your compensation. The best way to ensure that you receive fair compensation for your damages is to hire an experienced Tylenol autism lawyer. Product liability attorneys are equipped to represent you in negotiations, calculate the value of your damages, and protect your rights. 


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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