A Sister’s Fight for Justice

Posted by Sydney J. Kpundeh.

The famous over the counter drug Tylenol was at the center of a case that was brought before a Pennsylvania federal district court in early November. The case involved a lady who had taken Extra Strength Tylenol for many years to treat various conditions. In Mid-August of 2010, she underwent lumbar laminectomy surgery and afterwards she was instructed by her doctor to take Regular Strength Tylenol in conjunction with Lorcet, a prescription drug containing acetaminophen, but not to exceed 4 grams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period. For approximately two weeks, she used the Regular Strength Tylenol, as instructed, until the bottle ran out, after which she began using Extra Strength Tylenol. At some point, she stopped taking the Lorcet due to its side effects. On August 29, she unfortunately was diagnosed with acute liver failure and died two days later.

After her passing, her sister filed a products liability lawsuit, “including claims for defective design and negligent failure to warn against McNeil, which manufactures the drug, and Johnson & Johnson, McNeil’s parent company.” Her sister insisted that the defendants knew that Tylenol could cause liver damage when taken at or just above the recommended dose. Also, she claimed defendants were liable for the her sister’s death because they had failed to warn her of the “risks of injury and/or death.” The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the sister had not offered sufficient evidence to support her failure to warn claim.

Under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine, there are two factors that must be shown to find the scope of a manufacturer’s legal duty. The first is that there is some potential danger and the second is that there is a possibility of a different design to avert that danger. In this case, sufficient evidence was presented to show that the manufacturers knew or should have known that Extra Strength Tylenol could cause liver damage. The facts also showed that the manufacturers were working to find a substitute. Finally, the evidence also showed that the plaintiff’s sister died of acetaminophen-induced liver failure after taking Extra Strength Tylenol as directed.

Sydney is a political science major with a minor in legal studies at Seton Hall University, Class of 2016.