NEC Lawsuit Update 2024: Have Formula Manufacturers Made Settlements Yet?

Baby formulas have been a source of newborn nutrition for over a century. The first-ever commercial baby formula was available by the late 1800s, albeit it was extremely expensive. For another half a century, elite women relied on wet nurses for their babies’ nutrition.

Today, over 12 major infant formula manufacturers operate across the United States, with Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson being big names. They manufacture Similac and Enfamil baby formulas respectively.

Despite being top commercial formula-producing companies, Abbott and Mead Johnson have been sued. Parents have alleged that the two companies’ products compromised their baby’s growth and well-being. The litigation is called the NEC lawsuit across Federal courts. In this article, we will discuss it in detail and explore progress toward settlements.

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Premise of the Litigation

As mentioned earlier, Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories’ baby formulas can cripple infant health. This is why parents have filed the NEC lawsuit. NEC stands for Necrotizing Enterocolitis. It is a life-threatening gastrointestinal condition that primarily affects premature babies and those with low birth weight.

As per MedlinePlus, NEC is said to occur when the wall or lining of the intestines dies. As a result, bacteria from the gut can leak into the bloodstream. Since preterm babies have an extremely low immune response to bacteria, they are at risk of death.

Common symptoms of NEC among newborns include –

  • Problems with feeding
  • Diarrhea issues and blood in stool
  • Unstable body temperature
  • Abnormal blood pressure, heart rate, or breathing
  • Abdominal bloating and vomiting

Early detection and aggressive treatment are the only ways to save the baby’s life. This condition affects the baby as early as two weeks of life and the prognosis is usually poor. Nearly 40% of infants die from NEC.

According to TorHoerman Law, parents of affected babies have alleged that the formula manufacturers were aware of the risks but failed to issue any warnings. They continued to advertise their products as safe and effective, targeting vulnerable mothers with their campaigns.

Their formulas, ‘designed’ to meet an infant’s nutritional needs, are doing the exact opposite. Babies are at risk of developing NEC after being fed these brands’ commercial formulas. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) considered formula makers’ marketing tactics exploitative.

NEC Swept under the Rug and Filings

The NEC lawsuit dates back to early 2022 when the defendants requested for all cases to be consolidated into a class-action multi-district litigation (MDL). Within six more months, case numbers had risen to almost 100.

This was a good development in the case as it indicated that more and more parents were becoming aware of the lawsuit. In the same year, a new medical study revealed that the link between NEC and premature infant death was strong, almost undeniable. This further strengthened the plaintiff’s side in the litigation.

During the first half of 2023, the number of case filings was low. Attorneys had expected MDL-3026 to blow up due to the growing evidence and word of mouth. The defendants were not only being publicly criticized but they had recalled a batch of their products in the previous year.

By this time, both parties were preparing for pre-trial proceedings. The plaintiff’s counsel had a rough idea of the NEC lawsuit payout and settlement amounts, expected to range between $5000 and $500,000. From the second half of 2023, the litigation gained enough steam. It seemed as if the lack of decisive studies had allowed NEC to stay beneath the rug for as long as it did.

Lawsuit Progression and Settlements

Around that time, lawyers feared that the statute of limitations may become a problem in this litigation. In most states, it extended up to two years but most parents had no basis for their litigation for so long.

It was argued that the filing window must remain open for two years from when the parents suspected a link between their baby’s NEC and infant formula. Thankfully, by November 2023, four critical cases were selected for the upcoming Bellwether trials.

No trial dates had been given but both sides strongly believed that early 2024 would be the tentative period. By the end of the year, nearly 300 cases had made it into the MDL. January 2024 was a month full of surprises as 50 new cases were filed.

The month of March brought even more favorable news as a state court jury awarded plaintiffs $60 million. The case was filed against Mead Johnson and the court found the company guilty of the infant’s injury and manipulative marketing tactics. Since this landmark settlement, the litigation has garnered new attention.

Immediately after that, 50 new cases were filed. As of now, both sides are waiting with bated breath for trials to be held sometime in 2024.

No fixed trial date is still available. However, 453 cases have been consolidated into the MDL. It is believed that the case volume may remain stable for the upcoming months as well. This means the litigation will continue to grow until the Bellwether trials. Plaintiff attorneys are doing their best to provide innocent lives the justice they deserve.


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