Many parents of premature infants who were fed cow’s milk-based baby formulas in the hospital have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of these products. The primary defendants are Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson, which produce Similac and Enfamil brands, respectively.
The lawsuits allege that these baby formulas caused a serious intestinal condition called necrotizing enterocolitis in some infants, leading to severe complications or even death. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants knew or should have known about the risks of NEC associated with their products, but failed to warn consumers or medical providers. They also accuse the defendants of marketing their products as safe and beneficial for premature infants, despite evidence to the contrary.
Why is it dangerous?
According to research studies dating back to the 1990s, premature infants who are fed exclusively or partially with cow’s milk-based baby formulas have a significantly higher risk of developing NEC than those who are fed exclusively with human milk. This is because cow’s milk contains a substance called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which can trigger an inflammatory response in the immature intestines of premature infants.
Despite these findings, Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson have continued to produce and sell cow’s milk-based baby formulas and human milk fortifiers for use by preterm newborns, without providing adequate warnings or instructions to hospitals, doctors or families. The defendants have also ignored or disputed the recommendations of influential medical groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, which have advocated for exclusive breastfeeding or donor human milk for premature infants.
What is the status of the lawsuits?
In August of 2022, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated about 97 lawsuits involving NEC claims against Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson into a multidistrict litigation in the Northern District of Illinois. The MDL is overseen by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, who coordinates the pretrial proceedings and discovery process for all of the cases.
At last count, there were well over 150 cases pending in the MDL. The parties have conducted discovery. Science day proceedings commenced on May 3, 2023. Science day is an opportunity for both sides to present an overview of the general medical and scientific issues involved in the litigation to the court.
The judge has also selected eight cases for bellwether trials, which are expected to begin in 2024. Bellwether trials are representative cases that are chosen to test the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s arguments and evidence. The outcomes of these trials may influence the settlement negotiations or verdicts for the remaining cases.