The judge presiding over federal lawsuits that claim prenatal exposure to acetaminophen causes ADHD and autism has ruled cases can proceed against Walmart. Two mothers claim that Walmart’s over-the-counter brand of acetaminophen, Equate, caused their children to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. The mothers filed separate lawsuits against the national retail corporation alleging Walmart failed to warn consumers about the increased risk of autism and ADHD when taking Equate while pregnant. Despite Walmart’s attempts to throw out these cases, Judge Denise L. Cote stated that federal law does not preempt failure to warn claims.
Acetaminophen ADHD and Autism Lawsuits Centralized in October 2022
On October 5, 2022, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred claims that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen causes babies to be born with ADHD or autism to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. At the time of consolidation, the panel noted eighteen actions pending in seven districts. However, shortly after the creation of MDL-3043, the panel added another forty-seven claims to the MDL, bringing the total case numbers to 65 in federal court.
As of November 15, 2022, the acetaminophen MDL contains 91 lawsuits. With dozens of actions joining the MDL in only a month, attorneys predict the acetaminophen MDL to become one of the larger mass torts.
Lawsuits Allege Prenatal Exposure to Acetaminophen Leads to ADHD and Autism
Plaintiffs accuse major retailers of not warning consumers that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen may cause children to develop ASD or ADHD. This litigation arrives on the heels of several studies in recent years that have established a potential link between in-utero exposure to acetaminophen and ADHD and autism in children.
While Tylenol and other acetaminophen-based drugs have been considered safe for pregnant women to alleviate aches and pains, growing evidence is beginning to suggest otherwise. For example, in 2019, John Hopkins University examined acetaminophen levels in umbilical cord blood samples. The study found that babies exposed to acetaminophen were three times more likely to develop ADHD or autism. As more research has pointed to neurological impairment in children exposed to acetaminophen, researchers have called upon manufacturers and regulators to notify the public of such dangers.
MDL Judge Rejects Walmart’s Motion to Dismiss Acetaminophen ADHD/Autism Claims
Judge Denise L. Cote, the judge presiding over MDL-3043, denied Walmart’s request to dismiss two acetaminophen claims on November 14. Plaintiffs Robin Hatfield and Lisa Roberts filed lawsuits against Walmart on June 7, 2022, in Arkansas, arguing that Walmart neglected to warn them about the risks of prenatal exposure to acetaminophen. Both women took Walmart’s Equate while pregnant since the label expressed no warning about ADHD or ASD. However, their children were later diagnosed with each condition.
Walmart moved to dismiss Roberts’ and Hatfield’s claims in September 2022. Shortly after Walmart filed this motion, the JPML transferred these cases to federal court in October. Walmart contends that federal law preempts the plaintiffs’ state law claims, stating the FDA regulated Equate and its label. However, Judge Cote rebuffed the company’s argument and explained that federal preemption did not apply because Walmart could have voluntarily added a pregnancy warning to the Equate label. Furthermore, Judge Cote struck down Walmart’s reasoning that manufacturers are responsible for product labeling, not retailers, by noting the lawsuits name Walmart as the retailer and manufacturer of Equate.