Illinois NEC Baby Formula Plaintiffs Ask to Consolidate Cases

Many mass tort claims have been consolidated into multi-district litigation (MDL) in federal courts. The Zantac (ranitidine) cancer litigation has been consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, with nearly 1,800 cases pending. In October, the federal Elmiron vision loss lawsuits were consolidated in an MDL in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. And the 3M military earplug cases have been combined into a massive MDL involving more than 285,000 claims. 

 The NEC baby formula litigation is in the early stages, and so far there’s been no move toward a federal MDL. But, in mid-December, plaintiffs in a number of cases filed in state courts throughout the state of Illinois requested consolidation. 

Why Have So Many Cases Been Filed in Illinois? 

Most of the baby formula cases filed so far target one of two companies: Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer of Similac products, and Mead Johnson, which manufactures Enfamil products. Mead Johnson’s corporate headquarters are in Chicago, and Abbott’s in Lake County, Illinois. 

Though plaintiffs often have other options for where to file, defendants–especially large ones with a lot of resources like the baby formula companies that are being sued–often challenge the jurisdiction of courts in locations like the plaintiff’s home county. This can make the cases more expensive to try, and draw out the process. Filing suit where the company is headquartered avoids that prospect.

Certain Illinois counties are also considered good locations for plaintiffs in injury and product liability type cases. The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA)–an organization whose goals include limiting the amount of damages an injured person can receive, limit juries’ ability to assess punitive damages, and make it harder for people injured by products to sue manufacturers and distributors–has deemed three Illinois counties “judicial hellholes.” In their book, that means a county that is too generous to injured people and other plaintiffs.

One of those counties is Cook County, where Mead Johnson maintains its headquarters. Another is Madison County, where plaintiffs are attempting to consolidate the Illinois NEC baby formula lawsuits. 

Why Consolidate the Cases? 

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 384 allows for consolidation of cases when they involve common questions. The purpose of the consolidation is efficiency: answering those questions once saves time and money for the court system and for both plaintiffs and defendants.

This type of consolidation offers some of the efficiency benefits of a class action case, but preserves the right to an individual trial on each plaintiff’s specific facts and individual damage awards.

Where Will the Consolidated Baby Formula Cases Be Tried? 

It might seem that if the consolidation request was granted, the cases would be tried in Cook County–where Chicago is located–or neighboring Lake County. But, the plaintiffs who filed the request have asked that the cases be consolidated in Madison County, Illinois. Madison County is in southern Illinois, at the opposite end of the state from Chicago and Lake County. 

In addition to being considered a “plaintiff-friendly” location for a product liability case like the baby formula litigation, Madison county is a smaller, lower-volume court system than the massive Cook County judicial system. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have negotiated a relatively streamlined process for the consolidated cases in Madison county, which would allow trials to start as soon as next spring. 

But, the location hasn’t been decided, and defendants will likely object to the selection of such a plaintiff-friendly county. So, while it’s very likely that the cases will be consolidated, we don’t yet know where those consolidated cases will be centered.

What if I Don’t Want to File My NEC Case in Illinois? 

The move to consolidate cases in Illinois includes only those cases that have been filed in state courts throughout Illinois. Cases have also been filed in other states, and in federal court. The best source of information about the best place to file your NEC lawsuit is an attorney who is experienced in handling product liability claims and familiar with the baby formula litigation. To learn more, just fill out the contact form on this site.

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