Corporate Response–Tylenol Case



The Tylenol case involved the death of individuals that resulted from cyanide poisoning. The Tylenol drugs that the company produced were laced intentionally with cyanide, and this led to the death of seven users of the medicine (Rachel, 2012). The case was considered as a murder case and was perpetrated in Chicago in the year 1982. No suspect was ever convicted since the perpetrator was never found. The Johnson and Johnson’s Company was responsible for the production of the Tylenol drug. The drug was the most used over the counter drug in the United States before the deaths occurred. The case due to lack of evidence was closed by the Federal Bureau Investigations department but later reopened in the year 2009. In the year 2010, a suspect who had blackmailed the company about the case was further investigated by the FBI together with his wife and DNA tests performed on them. 

Johnson and Johnson’s Company CEO’s response on the case

Johnson and Johnson’s Company CEO was the major factor in ensuring the company regained its status in the market through the directives that he made after the poisoning incidents. The CEO of the company made press releases and announcements warning the public against the consumption of the Tylenol drug. James Burke who was the CEO of the company at the time applied the use of the mass media to release his statements on the drug and the murders. He directed that the advertisements and promotions of the Tylenol drug be stopped until the issue was resolved. He urged that all medicine dealers including hospitals and pharmacies return their stock of the drug to the company. The hospitals and pharmacies returned the Tylenol drugs, and they were exchanged for newer and safety ones by the company. The public was also urged to return their Tylenol drugs to the company so that they could be given safer drugs to avoid other cases of cyanide poisoning. The CEO, James Burke was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the year 2000 and is considered as one of the best CEOs due to his control and management of the poisoning issue (Tamara, 2010).

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Circumstances that resulted to the events of the cyanide poisoning

The incidents of cyanide poisoning were first reported in the year 1982 after a child named Mary Kellerman who lived in Chicago died after being given the Tylenol drug by the parents. On the same day that Mary died, Adam Janus who was a postal worker died in the morning in another part of Chicago. The brother to Janus and the wife to the brother had consumed the same drug that led to the death of Janus. They died afterward after falling sick due to the cyanide poison that laced the Tylenol drug that they had consumed. In the following days after the deaths of these individuals, other people in Chicago developed similar symptoms of the cyanide poisoning and died. It was established that all the dead individuals had consumed the Tylenol drug. 

How the political and regulatory environment enabled or constrained the reaction of the company

The political environment surrounding medicine producers was not harsh at the time that the deaths due to cyanide poisoning occurred. The government did not impose sanctions and restrictions on the company, and it continued with its activities of medicine production and distribution with little changes to its operations. The favorable political environment enhanced the efficient reaction that the company had towards the cases of poisoning that faced them. The environment helped them to recover stability in their operations, and they were able to apply the effective counteractive measures that helped in preventing the situation from worsening further. The company’s policies helped in the control of the magnitude and impact of the issue since they provided favorable solutions in such times. The company’s pay off policy allowed the company to pay the individuals, hospitals, and pharmacies that it had taken the Tylenol drugs from after the incident. The policy allowed the company to exchange the drug products with other safe ones or to pay the affected individuals money that was worth their drugs.

Effects of social media on the 2009-2010 response towards the Tylenol Case

Social media was used to spread information about the recall of the Tylenol case in the year 2010. The news brought about new concerns amongst the users of the drug about the drug and the company operations in general. The recall, especially through the spreading of the news about it and incitement from different individuals through social media, reduced the purchase level of the drug. Concerned parents took to social media airing their grievances about the company stating that it had not prioritized their issues. The parents through the different social media platforms available began to incite others against the company threatening to switch to other alternative drugs.

The news that was spread through social media was unnecessary since the company had prevented similar 1982 case events through different measures that it had put in place since then. The company’s sales reduced since its customers did not buy the Tylenol drug due to issues related to the Tylenol case recall. 

The company should have used its social media platforms to provide clear information regarding the recall of the case and inform the customers of the case proceedings. The transparency in the case and company’s activities would have diverted the social media users’ attention from the incitement and negative statements directed towards the company. The social media users would focus more on the information that the company was relaying rather than the rumors and false information that was being spread all around. The transparency would have helped in maintaining the existing customers that the company had, and the sales would not have declined. 

Ethical issues to address on the response of the Tylenol case in 2009-2010

Various ethical issues needed consideration in response to the recall of the Tylenol case in the year 2009. The company should have been transparent about the case and its operations so that the customers would understand more about the case and the medical products of the company. Transparency would provide appropriate information regarding the case in 2009, and the customers would not depend on false information from other sources. 

The company did not apply good governance on the managing the operations of the company about the recall of the 1982 Tylenol case in 2009 (Kimes, 2010). The company should have managed and solved the grievances that the customers had on the case and the company’s operations especially the sale of the Tylenol drug to the people. Effective governance would have led to good decision making. The company’s decisions towards the case and grievances of the customers were not reliable since they brought out negative effects on the company’s financial and market status.

Legal lessons learned from the Tylenol 1982 case and its recall in 2009-2010

The Tylenol case helps companies or individuals a lot on legislative matters. The company portrayed that setting of effective and relevant policies would help solve issues that arose without going to court. The pay-off policy that the company had put in place enabled them to compensate the affected customers even without the customers pressing charges against them. The policy prevented legal suits.

The recall of the case in 2009 had a negative impact on the company’s status since it had not planned for it. This situation encourages us to plan for future occurrences even if they are not likely to occur. The planning will enhance the preparedness that individuals or companies have towards issues that relate to legislative matters that may affect them negatively.


The response of the Johnson and Johnson’s Company to the Tylenol case in 1982 impacted the company positively in its operations and financial status since the management took appropriate steps. The CEO applied measures that counteracted the impact that the cyanide poisoning cases had on the company by preventing further occurrence of such cases through recalling of available Tylenol medicine in the market. The policies that the company had put in place prevented it from being involved in legal suits since the customers were compensated even though it caused the company a lot. The 2009-2010 recall of the case affected the company negatively regarding finances and market domination since it had not planned for such an event.

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  1. Kaplan, Tamara (February 12, 2010). “The Tylenol Crisis: How Effective Public Relations Saved Johnson & Johnson”. The Pennsylvania State University.
  2. Kimes, M. (2010, September 6). Why J&J’s headache won’t go away. pp 104, 106, 108.
  3. Bell, Rachael (2012). “The Tylenol Terrorist”. Crime Library, truTV.
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