In October 2022, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) approved the consolidation of federal lawsuits that allege that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and several other over-the-counter products, causes autism, attention-deficit disorders, and other neurological problems in prenatal children.
As of July 2023, there were 200 pending “Tylenol autism” lawsuits consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Southern District of New York, presided over by Judge Denise Cote. Considering the millions of pregnant women who have used Tylenol and the rising rates of these neurological conditions, the lack of lawsuits may imply that the claims are based on flimsy evidence.
However, the dearth of lawsuits is more nuanced. The litigation, which names major manufacturers and retailers of Tylenol and generic acetaminophen products as defendants, remains in the early stage of the discovery process. Tylenol autism claimants who have yet to file a lawsuit are likely awaiting the outcome of Judge Cote’s ruling on what scientific evidence will be allowed to prove a corollary link between Tylenol usage during pregnancy and autism and other neurological dysfunction in children.
Although the evidence does not have to show direct causation, there must be sufficient evidence to show an association between in-utero exposure to acetaminophen and autism such that the association is more likely than not to exist. Should Judge Cote rule that the evidence, which includes 20 peer-reviewed studies, is insufficient, the potential plaintiffs could file a lawsuit in state court.
If however, Judge Cote rules that the scientific evidence is based on sound procedure, there will likely be a surge in the number of Tylenol lawsuits filed as the case moves forward and becomes more widely known.
One challenge plaintiffs face is that it’s challenging to prove they purchased Tylenol during pregnancy because the drug can be purchased without a prescription. Furthermore, higher doses of acetaminophen taken throughout pregnancy have been associated with a higher risk of autism, further factors that are difficult to prove without documentation, including receipts.
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