Law360, New York (May 15, 2013, 5:43 PM ET) — McNeil-PPC Inc. and Johnson & Johnson may have fought the federal consolidation of lawsuits blaming acetaminophen in Tylenol products for severe liver damage, but the companies now want centralized management of similar state court cases in New Jersey, according to a Tuesday court notice.
The April 22 application was cited Tuesday in a court notice seeking comments on the possible centralization of Tylenol liver injury lawsuits in the state. There are at least 14 such cases in New Jersey, and most have been filed in Atlantic County Superior Court within the past year, according to the application. Skillman, N.J.-headquartered McNeil and its corporate parent want the suits sent to Middlesex County Superior Court before Judge Jessica Mayer.
“Placing all the New Jersey Tylenol liver litigation cases before a single experienced multicounty litigation judge, who can formulate and monitor a pretrial discovery program and coordinate with the MDL proceeding, will advance judicial economy, reduce the overall litigation management burdens and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary,” the application said.
The cases are currently before Judge Carol Higbee, who is overseeing the most multicounty litigation plaintiffs in matters that have already been consolidated, according to the application.
Meanwhile, Judge Mayer has not only guided complex product liability disputes to trial, but most of the consolidated actions in her New Brunswick, N.J., court are in their final stages, the application said. New Brunswick is also home to J&J and located in the center of the state, the companies noted.
“In light of the proper venue for these matters, geographic location, ease of accessibility, experience of the bench, existing case loads and presently available judicial resources and capacity, Middlesex County is the appropriate venue for centralization here,” the application said. “If there is to be a New Jersey forum for out of state plaintiffs who allege product liability claims against New Jersey corporate defendant, the forum should be where that defendant is located.”
The companies contend that the suits are ripe for centralization because even more are expected, given that they are headquarters are in New Jersey. At the time of the application, there were 187 federal and state plaintiffs across the country, including New Jersey, according to the companies.
McNeil and J&J also contend that plaintiffs’ “cookie cutter complaints” blaming acetaminophen for liver injuries should be subject to coordinated and streamlined discovery.
“If New Jersey Tylenol liver litigation cases are not managed in a coordinated fashion, the risk of unequal procedural footing, inconsistent discovery rulings and other pretrial issues runs high,” the application said.
Comments on the application are due to New Jersey’s Acting Administrative Direct of the Courts by June 10. J&J and McNeil have been hit with numerous suits claiming they put consumers in harm’s way by failing to properly convey liver injury risks from Tylenol products, which they contend are defective and dangerous.
The companies say in their application that the risk of liver damage from an overdose of acetaminophen has been known for decades, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has consistently deemed Tylenol safe and effective, and that McNeil has included proper warnings on its labels