Similac Infant Formula Led to a Fatal Case of Necrotizing Enterocolitis, Parents’ Lawsuit Alleges

Parents say their prematurely born infant son died of NEC at just a month old, after being fed cow's milk-based Similac infant formula while still in the NICU.

A Kentucky couple has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the makers of Similac infant formula, indicating that their child died due to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), claiming Abbott Laboratories knew their products were a risk to newborns, but put their profits over the safety of innocent babies.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Samantha and Blake Parker in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on April 25, pursuing damages on behalf of themselves and their deceased child, identified in the lawsuit only as C.P. The lawsuit names Abbott Laboratories as the defendant, indicating the company failed to warn parents and medical professionals that giving Similac infant formula to preterm infants greatly increased their risk of NEC and death.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating intestinal conduction, which primarily impacts premature babies, occurring 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.

The Parkers’ complaint joins a growing number of similar infant formula NEC lawsuits already being pursued against the makers of Similac and Enfamil, each raising similar allegations that both Abbott and Mead Johnson have engaged in false and misleading advertising campaigns, which have driven many families away from safer breastfeeding or donor milk alternatives.

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

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The lawsuit indicates C.P. was born prematurely in April 2023. While in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the newborn was fed Similac cow’s milk-based products and developed NEC shortly thereafter. C.P. died from complications associated with NEC on May 1, 2023.

The Parkers’ lawsuit claims the boy’s death could have been avoided if the manufacturer had provided adequate warnings about cow’s milk-based infant formula risks to parents and the medical community.

A growing body of research has found that cow’s milk-based infant formula like Enfamil and Similac greatly increases the risk of NEC among premature infants, compared to use of a mother’s breast milk or donor human milk. 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.

“Although Defendants knew, or should have known, about the unreasonable and substantial adverse risks their cow’s milk-based products posed to preterm infants, they negligently, recklessly, or intentionally failed to make these products safer or adequately warn consumers or the health care community of their products’ true risks,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, Defendants undermined the science connecting cow’s milk-based nutrition products to NEC and unduly influenced the perception of the public and medical community through aggressive and misleading marketing campaigns promoting their cow’s milk-based infant nutrition products as safe and equivalent or superior alternatives to human milk for all infants, which they knew was false.”

May 2024 Infant Formula NEC Lawsuits Update

Like the Parker’s complaint, most Similac lawsuits and Enfamil 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.

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 start date for the first NEC bellwether trial in the federal court system has 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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