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The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has ordered all federally filed Abbott infant formula lawsuits to be centralized in the Northern District of Illinois for pre-trial proceedings.

This is the same court where the panel, on April 8, 2022, centralized baby formula necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) lawsuits.

The Abbott lawsuits concern the powdered baby formula that Abbott recalled on February 17, 2022, for bacterial contamination concerns.

Plaintiffs Make Allegations Concerning Abbott’s Recalled Formula

On April 14, 2022, plaintiffs filed a motion to have the Abbott powdered infant formula lawsuits centralized in the Southern District of Florida. At that time, 18 cases were pending in federal courts across the country.

The cases shared common questions of fact, including whether Abbott’s powdered baby formula led to serious bacterial infections in babies who consumed it. The motion pointed out that these lawsuits are different from the ones centralized last April that concerned NEC.

Whereas those cases involved allegations of preterm infants suffering NEC after ingesting cow’s milk-based formula, the Abbott powdered formula cases involve Abbott’s recall over reports of bacterial contamination, namely Cronobacter sakazakii.

The plaintiff who filed the motion stated he fed his child the recalled formula, and soon after, the child suffered serious injury requiring medical intervention.

On February 17, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers not to use certain powdered infant formula produced in Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan facility. The administration also noted on that day that Abbot had announced a voluntary recall of potentially affected products, including Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered formulas. This recall contributed to the already rising problem of infant formula shortages across the country.

Panel Centralizes All Abbott Powdered Formula Lawsuits in Illinois

At the time of the recall, the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were investigating consumer complaints of Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport infections. Four infants were hospitalized with these infections after consuming Abbott powdered formula made at the Sturgis, Michigan facility. One infant died.

The FDA initiated an onsite inspection of the facility and found several positive Cronobacter results from environmental samples. A review of the company’s internal records also indicated environmental contamination with the bacteria and that Abbott had previously destroyed products due to contamination with the same bacteria.

The recall led to some new Abbott formula lawsuits, and the number of lawsuits has continued to increase. Following the plaintiff’s motion to transfer, Abbott responded by supporting centralization, though the company suggested the Northern District of Illinois as the transferee court.

In the transfer order, the panel noted that there were 18 total actions already pending in seven districts, as well as 12 potentially related actions.

After considering the arguments, the panel found that centralization would serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation. The panel chose the Northern District of Illinois because that’s where Abbott is headquartered and because it offers a “convenient and readily accessible district.” The panel assigned Judge Matthew F. Kennelly to oversee the proceedings.

FDA Steps Up Efforts to Encourage the Production of Safe Formula

On June 22, 2022, the FDA published an update on its ongoing efforts to ensure consumers have access to safe and nutritious infant formula. In addition to its efforts to address the infant formula problem—which includes facilitating the importation of products from six other countries—the administration has vowed to resume its annual surveillance inspection schedule for infant formula facilities.

The FDA also entered into an agreement with Abbott in which the company agreed to take corrective actions expected to increase infant formula products that are safe and free from contamination.

Parents can find tips on how to reduce the risk of bacterial infection when feeding infant formula in the FDA’s new information sheet entitled “Help Prevent Cronobacter Illness: Prepare and Store Powdered Infant Formula Safely.”

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