Lawyers in Toxic Baby Food Lawsuits To Meet With MDL Judge for Initial Status Conference

A growing number of lawsuits have been filed against Gerber, Nurture, Beech-Nut and other popular brands, each involving allegations that children developed ADHD or autism from toxic baby food.

The U.S. District Judge recently assigned to oversee the pretrial proceedings for all lawsuits over the presence of toxic heavy metals in baby food products will hold an initial status conference on Thursday, at which time lawyers involved in the litigation have been told to be prepared to discuss how to facilitate a quick, economical and just settlement or other resolution for the claims.

Over the last few years, parents nationwide have been filing toxic baby food lawsuits against Gerber, Nurture, Beech-Nut and manufacturers of other popular products, alleging that lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium found in the baby food caused their children to develop autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other developmental problems.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the complaints, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued an order last month establishing a federal toxic baby food MDL (multidistrict litigation), which centralized the cases in the Northern District of California before U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, who scheduled an initial status conference for May 16.

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.

Dozens of families are now pursuing financial compensation for 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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Toxic Baby Food Initial Status Conference

Judge Corley issued a pretrial order (PDF) on April 15, setting the initial status conference for the litigation for May 16. The order called for the plaintiffs and defendants to submit a joint statement (PDF) identifying already filed and pending toxic baby food lawsuits to be included in the litigation, which they did on May 10.

“Initial matters relating to pretrial proceedings in these cases will be addressed at the May 16 conference,” Judge Corley wrote. “Counsel shall be prepared to suggest procedures to facilitate the expeditious, economical, and just resolution of this litigation.”

The order also indicates Judge Corley is currently considering appointments for plaintiffs’ lead counsel, a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and other leadership positions, and dozens of toxic baby food lawyers have submitted applications to serve in these roles. Attorneys selected will perform certain tasks during the MDL proceedings that benefit all toxic baby food lawsuit plaintiffs, but each family will still maintain their own lawyer to establish their child’s injury was caused by exposure to the heavy metals.

In the joint statement, plaintiffs called for the Court to make it a goal of holding the first bellwether trials by mid-2025, indicating that they should be able to complete discovery within 18 months, much of which has already begun in several older cases.

Meanwhile, Defendants are pushing for bifurcated discovery proceedings, which would have the Court address issues of general causation discovery first, anticipating that they will try to have plaintiffs’ expert general causation experts dismissed.

The parties also call for the initial conference to discuss the submission of MDL scheduling orders, and early disputes that could slow the litigation, such as jurisdictional challenges, discovery disputes and how to coordinate with state courts, as well as holding a “Science Day” to explain the scientific underpinnings of the litigation to the Court.

It is expected that Judge Corley will hold a series of bellwether trials, early test cases used to determine how juries will respond to evidence and testimony likely to be repeated in claims 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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