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Abbott Faces Trial Over Claims Preterm Infant Formula Causes Dangerous Diseases

USA 10.07.2024
Source: The DairyNews
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Similac baby formula maker Abbott is set to face trial on Monday over allegations that its preterm infant formula causes necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially fatal bowel disease. This trial marks the second among hundreds of similar lawsuits across the United States.
Abbott Faces Trial Over Claims Preterm Infant Formula Causes Dangerous Diseases
Margo Gill, an Illinois resident, claims that her premature infant developed NEC after being fed Abbott's formula in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). NEC, which leads to the death of bowel tissue, affects newborns with a fatality rate of 15% to 40%. While Gill's child survived, they suffer from long-term health issues as a result.

The case focuses on specialized formulas and fortifiers used in hospital settings, not the ordinary formula available to consumers. Abbott defends its product, stating that these specialized formulas are considered standard care by the medical community. The company also argues that Gill's child's health issues stem from a traumatic brain injury sustained in utero and at birth, unrelated to their products.

This trial is part of a larger litigation landscape, with nearly 1,000 lawsuits filed against Abbott and Enfamil formula maker Reckitt Benckiser. Over 500 cases are centralized in an Illinois federal court, with additional cases in Illinois, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs allege that the companies failed to warn that their products pose a higher risk of NEC compared to breastfeeding or human milk-derived formulas.

The first trial, against Reckitt in Illinois, concluded with a $60 million jury verdict in March, which Reckitt is appealing. This litigation has impacted investor confidence, with Reckitt's share price dropping by about 15% and Abbott's by 4% following the verdict.

The NEC Society, a patient-led non-profit organization, has voiced concerns about the litigation, emphasizing that feeding decisions should be made by medical professionals rather than in courtrooms. The organization does not have any financial or other relationships with Abbott or Reckitt.

Separately, Abbott is also dealing with ongoing litigation related to the shutdown of its Sturgis, Michigan, plant and a subsequent formula recall due to possible contamination, which contributed to a nationwide formula shortage in 2022. There have been no trials in those cases yet.

Lawyers for Abbott and Margo Gill will present their opening statements to jurors in St. Louis, with the trial expected to continue for most of the month.
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