Mass tort launched for claims that acetaminophen caused autism, ADHD

The pharmacy at a Walmart store is pictured in West Haven, Connecticut, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Segar
  • So far 66 actions have been consolidated in Manhattan federal court
  • Some studies have linked prolonged acetaminophen exposure in the womb to the conditions

(Reuters) - A federal judicial panel has created a new mass tort litigation for claims accusing Costco Wholesale Corp, Walmart Inc and other major retailers of failing to warn that using acetaminophen, a popular pain and fever-reduction medication, during pregnancy can cause autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in St. Louis on Wednesday consolidated 18 lawsuits for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan. The panel sent an additional 48 cases to the newly created multidistrict litigation on Thursday, saying the same scientific and legal questions underlie all of the cases.

The lawsuits target retailers that sell the over-the-counter drug, also sold by Johnson & Johnson under the brand name Tylenol.

They also name CVS Pharmacy Inc, Rite Aid Corp, Safeway Inc, Target Corp and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc as defendants, but not manufacturers of the drug.

“We are pleased the Judicial Panel granted our motion to consolidate the cases over the defendants’ objections, and look forward to beginning work on this very important litigation that affected women and their autistic children across our nation,” said Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Lawyers for the retailers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim that the retailers failed to warn pregnant users of acetaminophen products about the neurological risks to the fetus. In their motion to create an MDL, plaintiffs' lawyers said it was "virtually certain that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands" of similar lawsuits would eventually be filed because of the popularity of acetaminophen and the growing prevalence of autism and ADHD.

Health experts advise pregnant women to take acetaminophen rather than aspirin or ibuprofen, which can cause fetal organ damage.

All the retailers opposed the creation of an MDL, saying the manufacturers of Tylenol and the generic store-brand equivalents were "conspicuously missing" from the cases, but were necessary parties to resolve the disputes.

They also said their products are safe and properly labeled under federal law, and that widely varying facts in individual plaintiffs' cases would make an MDL inefficient.

The JPML, however, found that all of the cases involved common questions of fact, including whether acetaminophen can cause autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, whether the sellers knew or should have known of the danger and whether they properly warned consumers.

Multiple studies have found an increased risk for the disorders in children whose mothers used acetaminophen. Some studies have linked the risk to prolonged exposure, but not small amounts of the drug.

The case is In re: Acetaminophen ASD/ADHD Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, MDL No. 3043.

For plaintiffs: Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra and others

For Costco, CVS and Walgreens: James Murdica of Barnes & Thornburg

For Rite Aid: James Link of Baraban & Teske

For Safeway: Amanda Groves of Winston & Strawn

For Target: Purvi Patel of Morrison & Foerster

For Walmart: Donald Zimmer Jr of King & Spalding

Read more:

Acetaminophen, social media addiction cases go before consolidation panel

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.