Lawsuits Over Baby Food Toxic Metals Causing Autism, ADHD Consolidated in Northern District of California

Baby food autism and ADHD lawsuits allege that manufacturers have sold products contaminated with high levels of lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium to parents, despite the known presence of the toxic heavy metals.

A panel of judges has determined that all toxic baby food lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, involving claims that children developed ADHD or autism from heavy metals in Gerber, Nurture, Beech-Nut and other popular baby food brands, will be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for pretrial proceedings.

On March 28, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) heard oral arguments over whether to consolidate the lawsuits over baby food heavy metals contamination, despite objections filed by Gerber, Hain Celestial, Inc., Nurture, Inc. and other manufacturers, who have been accused of distributing products for years that contain high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. The panel rejected a similar request in 2021.

The toxic heavy metals are known to increase the risk of infants developing autism or ADHD, and parents are seeking financial compensation for the life-long disabilities their children now suffer.

Although the panel initially rejected a similar request for centralized management of the litigation in 2021, given the increasing size and scope of the lawsuits now pending before various different U.S. District Judges, a toxic baby food lawsuit MDL (multidistrict litigation) has been established to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the claims, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.

Toxic Heavy Metals in Baby Food

The baby food litigation first emerged in April 2021, after a U.S. Congressional report highlighted internal documents and testing results for products sold by a number of companies, indicating that many baby foods contain toxic levels metals that may pose serious health risks for children, with more than 91 times the maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water; 177 times the allowable levels of lead, 69 times the limits on cadmium, and five times the levels of allowable mercury.

Despite calls from health experts and regulators for manufacturers to entirely remove the contaminants from their products, subsequent testing has found that toxic heavy metals in baby food remain a pervasive problem, with popular brands sold by Gerber, Plum Organics, Sprout, Walmart and others still having potentially dangerous levels.

Since then, a steadily growing number of toxic baby food heavy metals lawsuits have been filed by families of children diagnosed with autism or ADHD, each raising similar allegations that manufacturers played on the parents’ trust that products would be safe, concealing the levels of toxic elements present for years. The lawsuits indicate the defendants knew that if consumers were aware of the high levels of heavy metals in the baby food, they never would have willingly fed the products to their children.

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Baby Food Lawsuits

Toxic baby food sold by Gerber, Beech-Nut and other manufacturers contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, which may be the cause of autism and severe ADHD for children.

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With common questions of fact and law raised in at least 10 claims pending in six different U.S. District Courts, and hundreds of additional claims actively being investigated by lawyers for families nationwide, a motion to establish the baby food heavy metals MDL was re-filed on January 4, indicating that it was becoming unwieldy for courts to manage the wide-ranging litigation.

Baby Food Toxic Metal Lawsuits Consolidated

Following the oral arguments held in late March, the JPML issued a transfer order (PDF) on April 11, indicating all baby food toxic metal injury lawsuits will be consolidated for discovery and pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley.

“On the basis of the papers filed and the hearing session held, we find that the actions listed on Schedule A involve common questions of fact, and that centralization in the Northern District of California will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation,” the order states. “Plaintiffs in each action, who are minors, allege they were exposed to elevated quantities of toxic heavy metals (namely, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury) from consuming defendants’ baby food products and, as a result, suffered brain injury that manifested in diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

Now that an MDL has been established for the lawsuits over baby food heavy metals causing autism and ADHD, it is expected that Judge Corley will establish a “bellwether” strategy, where the parties will select a small group of representative cases to serve as early test trials, which typically help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.

However, if the parties fail to negotiate baby food toxic metals settlements during the MDL proceedings, each individual claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for trial.

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