A judicial panel has approved a request by Abbott Laboratories to consolidate cases alleging that the feeding of certain infant formulas to prematurely born babies can cause a life-threatening condition known as necrotizing enterocolitis. The request was supported by other companies named in lawsuits over the condition. According to the Order issued by the panel, there are currently 16 lawsuits pending over the matter, with 20 additional actions that are potentially related to the litigation.
Evidence, as detailed in the Order, will be offered that infant formulas marketed under popular brand names like Similac and Enfamil are more likely to cause necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants than other brands due to the way they are made, and that safer alternative brands exist that do not carry such risks.
Necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, is caused by the infection, inflammation, and eventual death of intestinal cells. Approximately 10 percent of infants born weighing under three pounds and five ounces will develop NEC, and the prognosis for the infant is largely dependent upon how quickly the condition is recognized and remedied.
Symptoms of NEC include a swollen or bloated abdomen, bloody stool, difficulty breathing, a low heart rate, and overall sluggishness in the baby. Treatments vary and are determined by a physician based on the acuity of the symptoms shown. In the most extreme cases, infants can require surgery and even transplants to repair damage to the baby’s intestines and other parts of the digestive tract.
In granting the consolidation request, the panel noted several benefits of the action including a more streamlined timeline for pretrial proceedings, the reduction of duplicate discovery obligations, the prevention of inconsistent rulings on various challenges and motions, and the conservation of resources for all involved.
Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer will be overseeing the cases and is noted by the panel as being “a seasoned jurist who is well-versed in the complexities of multidistrict litigation.”