Judge Prohibits Mention of Insurance Info in Tylenol MDL

A federal judge has made several rulings concerning the first trial of the Tylenol liver-damage multidistrict litigation (MDL). The bellwether case was filed on behalf of a woman who died of liver failure in 2010, allegedly due to consumption of Tylenol. According to The Legal Intelligencer, U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that information about her accidental death insurance coverage is prohibited from the trial. Information concerning a new acetaminophen alternative drug, however, may still potentially be mentioned.

Judge Stengel responded to 15 motions filed in limine from the plaintiff; these types of motions ask the court to prohibit certain evidence from being presented at trial. Motions in limine may be filed for various reasons. In this case for instance, one issue involved prohibiting testimony from the plaintiff’s home state of Alabama because she may be perceived as a “carpetbagger” for filing her case in Pennsylvania.

Most of the judge’s analysis focused on the plaintiff’s accidental death insurance claim, which was paid by the insurance company. Attorneys for the plaintiff asserted the insurance claim is irrelevant and should be excluded as evidence from the trial. Attorneys for J&J tried to counter this by arguing that Alabama’s collateral source rule does not apply. The collateral source rule does two major things in personal injury litigation: it prevents an injured party from having their compensation reduced if they received money from a third party (i.e. their insurance company, worker’s compensation) and it prevents jurors from considering these payments in a trial against a separate defendant. Judge Stengel sided with the plaintiff’s, stating “From what has been provided, the collateral source rule would be applicable,” according to The Legal Intelligencer. “The defendants afurther claim it is not applicable because this case involves only punitive damages and not compensatory damages. They cite no authority to support this argument. I cannot find any that speaks directly to this issue.”

Defendants had filed a motion to exclude evidence on Project PAPA, which seeks to develop an acetaminophen alternative drug that does not cause liver injury. Attorneys for J&J argued that information about the project could jeopardize company secrets. Stengel deferred ruling on this issue, stating he needed more information. “Without seeing the contents of specific exhibits, I am unable to weigh the relevant factors. The public’s health and safety will likely outweigh any privacy interests the defendants might have in information about Project PAPA’s existence and purpose,” he wrote, according to The Legal Intelligencer. “If specific exhibits contain proprietary information or trade secrets,” he said, “the factors may weigh in favor of sealing the presentation of this information at trial. I will need to see the specific exhibits and/or subject of the proposed testimony in order to determine whether sealing is necessary.”

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