There are multiple (valid) reasons why a mother may not be able to breastfeed her child, including a lack of sufficient milk production. Also known as liquid gold, a mother’s breast milk is so unique that it is nearly impossible to replicate.
For instance – infants cannot easily digest cow milk. Plus, commercial substitutes like baby formulas rarely contain all the essential nutrients needed for the baby to thrive. In other words, they are poor counterfeits for the real deal.
This has been evidenced through the active legal battle against baby formula manufacturers like Abbott Laboratories (Similac) and Mead Johnson & Company (Enfamil). In this article, we will discuss how far the litigation battle against infant formula manufacturers has come.
Why Such a Litigation Exists
Let’s begin by talking about the origins of the ongoing baby formula lawsuit. The Similac and Enfamil lawsuit is filed by parents of infants (mainly premature) who developed a condition called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) after being fed the respective baby formulas.
NEC is a serious gastrointestinal issue in which the baby’s intestinal lining becomes inflamed. As a result, some babies develop a perforation causing bacteria to leak into the bloodstream. NEC is a life-threatening condition, especially among premature and low birth weight babies.
TorHoerman Law notes that the primary allegation in the baby formula lawsuits is that the manufacturers knew about NEC risks and failed to warn parents. Some families (of preemies in hospitals) were not even given the choice between infant formula and human milk bank.
Also, baby formula manufacturers were accused by the World Health Organization (WHO) of running misleading campaigns about their products. They targeted vulnerable mothers with over-the-top claims regarding their baby formulas, not even mentioning the risks involved.
Timeline of the Litigation
The first wave of baby formula lawsuits was filed last year around January. Then, Abbott filed a petition for all cases to be consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL). Meanwhile, studies reported a clear connection between NEC and infant formulas.
Around March 2022, there was a Similac recall in the Sturgis, Michigan plant of Abbott Laboratories. This was the time when the general public became more aware of how baby formula manufacturers kept profits above people (in this case, innocent infants).
Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was accused of not keeping the companies in check. Once the MDL was formed in April 2022, nearly 52 active cases had been filed, with the numbers tripling in the next three months.
The pretrial procedures for the lawsuit began taking place in August 2022 when a proposed pool of cases was presented. Around mid-September 2022, the Judge issued a case management order in which four cases were selected for the Bellwether discovery pool.
Around late 2022, a ‘Science Day’ was also held given the complex nature of the litigation. Attorneys from both sides had their chance to present scientific evidence in court. This would generally involve proof regarding the direct link between the defendants’ products and NEC.
In 2023, the litigation progressed rather slowly. Not only that but there was limited growth from the viewpoint of new lawsuits. It was only in September 2023 that the NEC infant formula lawsuit began catching on, as the MDL consisted of 80 new cases.
The Current Position of the Litigation
After a deadline extension for bellwether case selections, four key cases were finally chosen early this month. The four cases involve infants who died or suffered severe injuries due to commercial infant formulas.
Though an exact date for the bellwether trial has not been given, it is expected to start by early 2024. Usually, it does take one to two trials before a final settlement offer is made. However, four trial dates will be scheduled for this litigation.
After the final offer, it may take a couple of months before individual payout amounts are decided. If no settlement is reached despite the four trials, the Judge may send the individual cases back to their respective district courts for separate trial dates.
Given the dark truth behind infant formulas, speculations circulate whether the manufacturers will be asked to recall their products. It seems unlikely that all commercial baby formulas would be taken off the retail shelves.
This is especially true in light of the baby formula fiasco that occurred due to Abbott’s recall back in 2022. Many women find it challenging to breastfeed their infants due to genuine reasons.
However, mothers are encouraged to invest in milk from human milk banks. If the milk is hygienically processed, stored, and delivered, it will provide all the essential nutrients the baby needs without any health risks.