Baby Formula Lawsuits Consolidated for Trial to Determine if Manufacturers Should Have Warned About Risks

Mother holding her baby up in front of an ocean sunset

The father of a preterm baby who died in neonatal intensive care within a month of birth has joined hundreds of other parents who claim manufacturers knew, but didn’t warn customers, about the deadly risk associated with some baby formulas. The cases are currently being consolidated in the federal system.

William Peebles filed a wrongful death complaint against manufacturer Mead Johnson in the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Louisiana on September 20. The complaint alleges Peebles’ daughter Lillian, born prematurely at 27 weeks, developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) after hospital staff in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) fed her Enfamil, which contains cow’s milk.

Devastating Damage from Necrotizing Enterocolitis

NEC is a catastrophic illness in which bacteria invade the intestinal walls, destroying the bowels and often prompting emergency surgery for babies still in the NICU. NEC primarily attacks premature infants. Doctors performed an exploratory laparotomy on Baby Lillian and concluded her intestines were “non-salvageable,” which led to her death.

Federal Court Centralized Pretrial Proceedings

Peebles’ complaint will be moved to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois after the federal court system centralized pretrial proceedings for all NEC lawsuits against baby formula manufacturers. U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, managing the lawsuits and coordinating discovery, announced twelve claims would be grouped as part of the initial discovery pool, with four claims each chosen by the plaintiffs, defendants, and the Court.

The pool will later be reduced to four that will be eligible for the initial bellwether trials held to gauge the jury’s response to testimony and evidence used throughout most cases.

Bellwether Trials Not Binding on Other Claims

Legally, the results of the bellwether trials are not binding on other NEC claims. But they are expected to influence baby formula manufacturers that might encourage settlement talks rather than face separate trial dates in District Courts nationwide.

Claims Against Enfamil and Similac

Peebles’s case mirrors those filed by hundreds of families across the country recently. All of them allege that Enfamil and Similac manufacturers knew the increased likelihood of premature babies developing NEC after being fed the formulas, continued to market their products aggressively, and did not provide warnings to parents and hospitals. A growing body of medical research over the past ten years has linked the risk of developing NEC in preterm babies to cow’s milk products, which Mead Johnson knew, according to the lawsuits.

Peebles’ lawsuit claims Mead Johnson did not place warnings on its website, labels, or in any marketing campaigns and did not explain how to use its cow’s milk formula in a way that would lower the risk of NEC or avoid death from it.

The lawsuit also alleges Mead Johnson should have disclosed that human breast milk and formulas based on it are much safer for premature infants than cow’s milk-based formulas. Peebles is seeking compensatory damages for tort claims, including strict liability, product liability for design defects and failure to warn, negligence, and loss of consortium.

If you are a lawyer who is handling a claim concerning defective baby formula, or any other product, you can request your medical records through National Record Retrieval.