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Jury award against Tylenol: $8.8-million

A federal-court jury awarded more than $8.8-million to a former White House official who contended that his liver was destroyed by the pain-reliever Tylenol.

Anthony Benedi, a former special assistant to President George Bush, was awarded $7.855-million in actual damages Thursday and $1-million in punitive damages in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.

Attorneys for Benedi said that his liver was destroyed by a toxic reaction caused by Tylenol and alcohol and that the drug manufacturer knew of this danger but failed to warn the public.

Jeff Leebar, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Products Co., said the jury verdict would be appealed. Another spokesman said the 39-year-old Benedi's liver failure was caused by a virus and that Tylenol played no role.

In his suit, Benedi, of Springfield, Va., said he was in good health until February 1993 when he began taking Tylenol Extra Strength to treat the flu.

After taking the recommended doses for several days, Benedi said, he slipped into a coma and was hospitalized. Doctors found that his liver had failed and he received a liver transplant on Feb. 12, 1993.

"I had the flu and then I wake up with my liver gone," Benedi said Thursday.

He said that his medical bills have topped $325,000 and that for the rest of his life he will have to take anti-rejection drugs and other medications that cost about $2,000 monthly.

Benedi's attorney, Patrick A. Malone, said his client also is in danger of losing his kidneys due to a reaction to the anti-rejection drugs. Benedi eventually will have to start kidney dialysis, the lawyer said.

Malone said that Benedi was accustomed to drinking wine with dinner and that this made his liver susceptible to damage when he took the Tylenol for several days to combat the flu.

Benedi's experts testified that McNeil had known for years that alcohol drinkers could suffer unusual liver damage from ordinary doses of Tylenol, but had failed to warn the public.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended last year that an alcohol warning be included on the labels of Tylenol and on several other types pain relievers. Some Tylenol products do carry the warning label, but not the Extra Strength Tylenol that Benedi used.

"We believe the injuries sustained were caused by a pre-existing virus infection and not by Tylenol," said Leebar, the Johnson & Johnson spokesman.

"Tylenol has established an excellent safety record from 30 years of patient use."

Another Johnson & Johnson spokesman, Bob Kniffin, said the company has no record of any person ever experiencing liver damage from the combination of moderate drinking and the recommended doses of Tylenol.

All cases in which alcohol and Tylenol have been implicated in liver damage have involved patients who were alcoholics or took an overdose of Tylenol, or a combination of both, Kniffin said.

He said Johnson & Johnson is preparing labels for all Tylenol products that will warn that patients consuming three drinks daily should consult a physician about the use of Tylenol.

During the Bush administration, Benedi was in charge of the president's daily appointments schedule. When Bush left the White House, Benedi became a consultant. He said that he had secured a job as a company vice president in February 1993 but that the offer was withdrawn after he became ill.