Baby formula manufacturers Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories have been sued by parents who say the companies’ baby formula products caused their newborns to develop a rare disease – necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
NEC is an intestinal condition that affects premature babies. It happens when the tissue in a baby’s small or large intestine becomes inflamed. The injured tissue can die and cause a hole to form within the intestinal wall. An infant with NEC cannot hold waste in their intestine, which can cause bacteria to pass into the bloodstream. Babies with the condition might have symptoms like trouble feeding, diarrhea or constipation, stomach swelling and discoloration, and lethargy. Medical professionals will diagnose NEC through abdominal X-rays and treat it with IV fluids and antibiotics. When left untreated for too long, necrotizing enterocolitis can require surgery. Babies can have lifelong digestive problems, and the disease has a mortality rate of up to 50%. In severe cases, the death rate is close to 100%.
Doctors haven’t pinpointed a single cause for NEC, but there are known risk factors. Babies who weigh less than 3 pounds and 5 ounces are most susceptible to the condition because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Newborns with low oxygen levels at birth are also more likely to develop NEC. These health complications aren’t preventable, but there’s an avoidable risk factor: cow’s milk-based baby formulas. A 1990 study found that babies who consumed baby formula were up to 10 times more likely to develop NEC than those fed breast milk. More recent research has backed up these findings and concluded that formula consumption could increase NEC risk. One study hypothesized that the risk is increased because baby formula’s unbound fatty-free acids can be toxic to intestinal cells. Researchers have also found that breast milk contains antibodies that help strengthen a baby’s immune system.
Parents with children in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) are given baby formula as an equally safe alternative to breast milk. The manufacturers who market the products often compare their products to human milk on the label. The question at the center of NEC baby formula lawsuits is whether Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories knew or should have known about the risk of NEC. Based on the literature dating back decades linking baby formula to NEC, it’s safe to say that the companies had some idea of a potential connection. The plaintiffs say that the companies failed to warn hospitals and guardians about the potential dangers of baby formula for premature infants.
How Filing An NEC Lawsuit Can Help
Research has found that the parents of NICU infants are likely to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even without unexpected complications, caring for a premature baby can be overwhelming. An NEC diagnosis can compound these feelings and add even more pain to an already difficult time. If your baby is diagnosed with NEC, all your attention will shift to their care and hopeful recovery. Filing an NEC baby formula lawsuit may not even cross your mind. But if your child received an NEC diagnosis after being fed formula, you should consider the benefits of filing a lawsuit.
An NEC lawsuit can lead to a sizable settlement, which can significantly help parents who have spent large sums on medical care. If formula manufacturers are found liable, they might be on the hook for medical bills, the pain and suffering your child experienced, and other costs you incurred while they were sick. Some children never make full recoveries from NEC, and the court can factor that into a lawsuit settlement as well. Children who survive NEC are more likely to face neurodevelopmental impairment and health problems like short bowel syndrome. If your child has a lower quality of life due to necrotizing enterocolitis, future medical costs will also be considered when negotiating compensation from baby formula manufacturers.
NEC MDL Updates
Earlier this year, the lawsuits against Abbott and Mead Johnson were consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL). Multidistrict litigation is a way to make the court more efficient when dealing with similar cases. The same judge now oversees all NEC lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois.
The court is moving forward with bellwether trials, also known as test trials. These trials are expected to take place in early 2024 and will give both sides an idea of how a jury will respond to the claims and could guide future settlement discussions. Abbott and Mead Johnson could be ordered to pay plaintiffs millions of dollars depending on trial outcomes. There’s still time to file, and parents with children with NEC diagnoses should contact an NEC baby formula lawyer to discuss the best way forward.