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The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) recently ordered that all federally filed infant formula necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) lawsuits be consolidated into the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. District Court Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer was appointed to guide the pretrial proceedings.

Meanwhile, a Mississippi mom recently filed yet another infant formula NEC lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. She claims that her premature baby suffered from NEC after being fed infant formula in the hospital.

Infant Formula Manufacturers Seek Consolidation

The motion to consolidate these lawsuits first came from Similac manufacturer Abbott Laboratories. The company filed a motion to consolidate in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

Abbott claimed that consolidation was necessary to reduce duplicative discovery and avoid conflicting judgments in these infant formula cases. The company also noted that the pace of new lawsuits was accelerating, making consolidation necessary to conserve judicial resources.

Mead Johnson, the manufacturer of Enfamil, is also facing a rising number of lawsuits concerning NEC in premature infants. The company responded to Abbott’s request for consolidation with a request of its own, agreeing that the cases should be consolidated in Connecticut.

Many plaintiffs also filed responses supporting consolidation, though several proposed other venues.

JPML Orders Transfer to District of Northern Illinois

The JPML agreed that centralization was prudent as all actions share factual questions concerning the risk of cow’s milk-based infant formula causing NEC in premature infants. The panel added that centralization offered an opportunity to streamline the pretrial proceedings, reduce duplicative discovery, and prevent inconsistent rulings.

The panel disagreed, however, with Abbott and Mead on the location for the new MDL. “We are persuaded that the Northern District of Illinois is the appropriate transferee district for these cases,” the panel wrote. More cases are currently pending in this district than in any other, and Abbott is based there.

Defendants Failed to Warn About Risks of NEC

Meanwhile, the Mississippi mom claims in her complaint that her baby was born prematurely on February 13, 2021. He weighed only 452 grams (less than one pound). Doctors fed the infant his mother’s breast milk, fortified breast milk, or Enfamil Premature Infant Formula from the date of birth through March 5, 2021.

On March 5, 2021, the baby had a swollen and dark stomach. Upon an abdominal exam, doctors suspected he had NEC, a dangerous intestinal infection. They performed an exploratory laparotomy and found two perforations in the bowel and gross contamination of the abdominal cavity with milk.

Because there was a significant distance between the two perforations, the baby had to undergo multiple resections to repair his bowels. His mother claims that the defendants knew that their cow’s milk-based formulas could increase the risk of NEC, yet they failed to warn doctors or parents of the dangers.

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