Abbott Laboratories Faces Jury Trial Over Claims Similac Caused NEC For Premature Infant

A mother from Illinois indicates that her premature daughter developed NEC from Similac, claiming that Abbott failed to warn parents and medical staff of the devastating risks associated with the cow's milk-based formula.

Following a $60 million verdict returned earlier this year in an Enfamil formula lawsuit involving similar claims that cow’s milk formula increases the risk of NEC for premature infants, trial got underway this week for a lawsuit brought by an Illinois mother whose daughter developed the devastating gastrointestinal condition after receiving Abbott Laboratories’ Similac formula while still in the hospital after birth.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Margo Gill, on behalf of herself and her minor child, who is identified in the lawsuit only with the initials R.D., presenting claims against Abbott Laboratories for failing to adequately warn parents and the medical community about the devastating risks associated with it’s infant formula.

Although versions of Similac and Enfamil have been specifically promoted in recent years for use among premature infants, there is increasing evidence that the cow’s milk formula dramatically raises the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which 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 many infants do not survive.

A St. Louis jury began hearing evidence this week in Missouri state court in the case brought by Gill, which is just one of several hundred of Similac lawsuits and Enfamil lawsuits currently pending in both federal and state courts nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the risks associated with their products, but provided false and misleading information for years about the risks compared to the use of human breast milk.

BABY FORMULA NEC LAWSUITS

Was your premature child fed Similac or Enfamil?

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

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Gil indicates that her daughter was born prematurely in August 2021, and received the cow’s milk-based infant formula while she was still in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit claims that Similac caused NEC to develop, resulting in the need for extensive surgeries, which has left R.D. with long-term health consequences that will impact the child throughout the remainder of her life.

The case will be the second baby formula NEC lawsuit to go to trial. In March, another Illinois jury ordered Mead Johnson and its parent company, Reckitt Benckiser, to pay $60 million in damages to Jasmine Watson, who’s child, Chance Dean, died due to NEC complications. That trial lasted four weeks, and the jury awarded $25 million more in damages that Watson’s attorneys had requested at trial, sending a strong signal about the strength of the evidence presented.

While these first two trials have been held at the state court level, most of the claims being purused by U.S. families are currently pending in the federal court system, where a baby formula MDL (multidistrict litigation) was established in 2022, centralizing all lawsuits that NEC was caused by Similac or Enfamil before U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer in the Northern District of Illinois for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

As part of the management of the litigation, Judge Pallmeyer has established a “bellwether” program, where a group of 12 NEC lawsuits brought against the two infant formula manufacturers are going through case-specific discovery, and the first federal NEC baby formula lawsuit bellwether trial is expected to begin on May 5, 2025.

Although the outcomes of these early trials will not have any binding impact on other claims that continue to be filed, they are being closely watched to determine how juries may respond to similar evidence and testimony that will likely be repeated throughout lawsuits being pursued by families nationwide, and may have a large influence on the amounts of any NEC settlements the manufacturers may be forced to pay to avoid hundreds of individual cases going before juries over the next few years.

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