NEC Baby Formula Litigation
baby formula

The NEC litigation is somewhat different from most mass torts cases, in that there are some open questions about what causes the condition, and multiple types of baby formula produced by different manufacturers may be involved.

This page explains what NEC is, what is known about the connection between certain baby formulas and NEC, and what’s happening with the baby formula litigation.

What is NEC?

NEC, or necrotizing enterocolitis, is a gastrointestinal condition that most often affects premature infants. The condition is serious, and is often fatal. NEC causes inflammation in intestinal tissues, which can cause tissue death. Holes may form in the intestine, which may allow bacteria to leak into the abdomen or blood stream. This can lead to peritonitis or sepsis.

Some common symptoms of NEC are clearly gastrointestinal, such as abdominal pain and swelling, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) or constipation, and vomiting. The baby may also refuse feedings. But, the condition can also have systemic impacts, and may cause symptoms such as lethargy, and changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Body temperature may be low or unstable. 

Who is Most at Risk for NEC? 

The vast majority of cases of NEC occur in premature infants, especially infants weighing less than 5.5 pounds. The risk of death from NEC-related complications is more significant in smaller babies. One survey of existing research concluded that NEC affects 5-10% of very low birth weight infants. 

Premature infants may be more susceptible to NEC because both their immune systems and their digestive systems are generally  less well-developed than those of a full-term baby. The condition most often develops when the child is three to six weeks old, and may occur in an infant who was healthy up to that point.

What is the Link Between Baby Formula and NEC?

More than 30 years ago, researchers determined that formula-fed infants were at significantly greater risk of NEC than those fed exclusively breast milk. Specifically, premature babies who were fed a mix of formula and breast milk were three times as likely to suffer from NEC as those fed only breast milk. The risk was even more significant for those fed only formula. 

Among preterm babies born at 30 weeks or later–who are generally less at risk than those born earlier–the difference was even more extreme. Babies in this group who were fed only formula were 20 times as likely to develop NEC. 

That study didn’t differentiate among types of baby formula. But, later studies suggest that the higher risk is specifically associated with cow’s-milk based formula.

What Baby Formula Companies are Being Sued?

Most of the NEC-related lawsuits filed so far have targeted one of two companies: Abbott Laboratories Inc. (manufacturer of Similac products) and Mead Johnson Nutrition Company (maker of Enfamil products). Both are large companies with extensive resources, and each produces multiple infant formula products that may contain cow’s milk. 

It’s important to note, though, that these are not necessarily the only formulas that include cow’s milk, which means they are likely not the only formula products that may put premature infants at risk of NEC. It’s been estimated that about 80% of infant formulas contain cow’s milk. Parents of premature infants who are fed formula, whether as the basis of their diet or a supplement, should carefully investigate the ingredients in the formula they choose. It’s also important to know what type of formula, if any, is given to your preterm infant in the hospital. 

Has the Baby Formula Believed to Cause NEC Been Recalled? 

The baby formulas named in the pending lawsuits and others containing cow’s milk remain on the market. That is unlikely to change, since the concerns relate specifically to its use in the diets of premature infants. 

What is the Basis of the NEC Lawsuits? 

The NEC lawsuits generally don’t allege that the baby formulas are generally unsafe. Instead, the litigation is largely focused on the failure of manufacturers of large brands like Enfamil and Similac to warn about the dangers of feeding the cow’s-milk-based formulas to premature infants. 

Plaintiffs claim that Abbott and Mead Johnson knew that the formula put preterm infants at risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, but failed to include warnings on their labels that would have put parents and medical providers on notice of the risks. Some have also accused the companies of actively marketing the products to parents of premature infants, though they were aware of the risks. 

How Much is a Baby Formula Claim Worth? 

It’s early in the NEC litigation, so we don’t yet know what type of settlements will be reached or verdicts returned. Damages in this type of case are typically based on how serious the injury was, the medical bills and other expenses and financial losses associated with it, and pain and suffering and other intangible losses. 

An experienced product liability attorney can tell you more about the types of damages that may be available in your case. 

How Long Do You Have to File an NEC Baby Formula Lawsuit? 

How long you have to file a lawsuit will depend on: 

  • The statute of limitations for product liability claims in your state
  • When your child developed NEC after being fed baby formula with cow’s milk
  • When the statute of limitations begins to run under your state law–in some states, the countdown starts later if you didn’t know about the source of the injury right away

In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this question. The best way to find out how long you have to file an NEC baby formula lawsuit is to speak with an attorney who handles these cases in your state. You can lose your claim if you wait too long, so you’ll want to get started right away.

Action Matters can help. Just fill out the contact form on this site. We’ll put you in touch with an attorney who handles NEC litigation in your area right away. 

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