$60 Million Jury Award in NEC Lawsuit Against Enfamil Manufacturers

Mother of a baby who died of NEC caused by Enfamil was awarded $25 million more in damages than she originally sought, after an Illinois jury heard about the manufacturer's failure to disclose the risk

An Illinois jury has ordered Mead Johnson to pay $60 million in damages to the mother of a premature infant who died of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) after being fed Enfamil formula shortly after birth.

The lawsuit was filed by Jasmine Watson in Illinois state court over the death of her child, Chance Dean, claiming the manufacturer withheld information from families and the medical community about the link between Enfamil and NEC, which is a devastating complication that occurs when harmful bacteria breaches the walls of the intestines, causing portions of the tissue to become inflamed or die.

The condition often results in the need for emergency surgery while the baby is still in the NICU, and a growing body of research has found that cow’s milk-based infant formula like Enfamil and Similac greatly increases the risk among premature infants. However, the formula manufacturers have faced sharp criticism in recent years for withholding known information about the risk, and even promoting certain versions of their products for use among preterm infants.

Verdict Sends a Strong Signal About Strength of Other NEC Lawsuits

Trial in the case began on February 20, and evidence was presented to a jury in St. Clair County for over four weeks. However, it only took two hours for the jury to reach a verdict, awarding $25 million more in damages than Watson’s attorneys had asked for.

The case was being closely watched, since it was the first Enfamil NEC lawsuit to go to trial in the United States, and may signal how juries will respond to similar evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout other claims being pursued by families nationwide.

In recent years, Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories have each faced hundreds of NEC lawsuits, which raise nearly identical allegations that the makers of Enfamil and Similac placed their desire for profits ahead of the safety of babies, by aggressively marketing their products and driving many families away from safer breastfeeding or donor milk alternatives.

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Baby Formula Lawsuits

Premature infants fed Similac or Enfamil cow's milk formula faced increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) or wrongful death.

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Watson’s son was born prematurely at 31 weeks and developed NEC shortly after being fed Enfamil. The child later died from the injuries, and Watson argued at trial that her loss could have been avoided if Mead Johnson had warned her or her doctors about the increased risks of NEC linked to the infant formula products.

During the trial, Watson’s attorneys pointed to numerous studies and experts who have warned for decades that cow’s milk-based infant formula products, like Enfamil and Abbott’s Similac, have been linked to an increased risk of NEC.

Not only did the jury quickly find in Watson’s favor, but the $60 million reward was $25 million higher than Watson originally sought. Mead Johnson indicated it is considering whether to appeal the decision.

March 2024 Infant Formula NEC Lawsuits Update

While this trial was held at the state level, most Similac NEC lawsuits and Enfamil NEC lawsuits are currently pending in the federal court system, where claims brought nationwide have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer in the Northern District of Illinois, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

According to a docket report issued on March 1, there are currently more than 400 complaints centralized before Judge Pallmeyer, each involving similar claims against the manufacturers, indicating that premature babies developed the devastating intestinal disease shortly after being fed the cow’s milk-based infant formula while still in the NICU, often resulting in fatal injuries or the need for emergency surgery to remove large sections of the intestines.

Families allege that the makers of Similac and Enfamil knew about the baby formula NEC risks for premature infants, yet continued to market and promote their products to hospitals, doctors and parents, without warning about the problems.

Last year Judge Pallmeyer had the parties select four infant formula NEC lawsuits for an initial bellwether trial pool, to serve as early test cases to see how juries will respond to common evidence and arguments likely to be repeated in hundreds of similar claims.

While the date the first NEC bellwether trial in the federal court system not yet been scheduled, Judge Pallmeyer has previously indicated the cases will be spaced about 12 weeks apart, and prior scheduling orders suggested the claims would be ready to go before juries by the end of 2024.

As the bellwether trial process continues, baby formula lawyers are continuing to review and file new claims for families nationwide, and the size of the litigation is expected to continue to grow throughout 2024. Following the four early trial dates, if the parties fail to negotiate NEC lawsuit settlements for families, it is then likely that Judge Pallmeyer will start remanding dozens of individual claims back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate trial dates.

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