Premature babies and babies with low-birth weight face significant developmental complications upon birth compared to other babies. Given their vulnerabilities, these babies demand extra care and attention from their parents and medical professionals. However, the recent NEC incidents suffered by premature babies and those with low-birth weight highlight that certain baby formula manufacturers fail to exercise the care and attention these babies deserve. The development of NEC in many premature babies and those with low-birth weight was allegedly tied to the baby formula products manufactured by Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories. Unfortunately, these NEC-related incidents led to severe complications and even the death of several vulnerable babies. Due to the devastating effects of NEC on premature babies, those with low birth weight, and these babies’ families, several NEC lawsuits were filed in numerous courts to hold Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson accountable for the disastrous side-effects of their products.
NEC lawsuits attempt to hold Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories responsible for the devastating effects of NEC on vulnerable newborns to their baby formula products. Generally, an NEC lawsuit cites three major issues where claimants may allege the following:
- That premature babies and babies born with low birth weight have developed NEC and NEC-related complications after being fed certain baby formula products manufactured by Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories.
- That Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories failed to warn the public, parents appropriately, and medical professionals that specific baby formulas they produce could potentially cause NEC or NEC complications when fed to premature babies or babies born with low birth weight.
- That baby formula makers Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories market their formulas as a safe breastmilk alternative geared towards premature babies and those with low-birth weight.
Necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC is a type of life-threatening gastrointestinal infection. This disease or its complications are so severe that it generally leads to the death of intestinal tissues. Although NEC may affect any newborn baby, it is more prevalent in premature babies and babies with low birth weight. NEC conditions and complications are more severe and often fatal when contracted by premature babies and those with low-birth weight.
Contracting NEC generally could be fatal since it causes inflammation to a vulnerable newborn’s large intestine. Such inflammation typically creates holes in the baby’s intestines which causes bacteria to leak into the abdomen or blood. Thus, such leakage potentially leads to infection, scarring in the child’s internal organs, growth restriction, or death.
Depending on the type and cause of NEC, newborn babies typically incur the symptoms of NEC around two to six weeks after birth. More concerning is that symptoms suddenly appear in babies who otherwise seem to be healthy and thriving.
Some of the symptoms of NEC in newborn babies generally include, but are not limited to:
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling of the abdominal area
- Drastic changes in the baby’s heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and breathing
- Diarrhea with bloody stools
- Green or yellow-colored vomit
- Sluggish or lethargic
- Not gaining any weight
- Refusing to take milk
Generally, a medical provider will examine a newborn baby by checking for a swollen abdomen and other NEC symptoms as listed above. If these symptoms are evident, the medical provider usually orders additional screening to properly diagnose a newborn baby with NEC.
The following screenings may be requested by a doctor assessing the newborn baby to determine if the child is suffering from NEC:
- Blood Tests: This test would check a newborn’s blood for bacteria and the presence of any infection.
- Fecal Test: This test would detect if there is blood in the baby’s feces. This test will show if there is blood in the baby’s stool, which is typically not visible in the presence of blood in the baby’s stool, even if such blood is not generally visible to the naked eye.
- X-rays: X-rays are done on the baby’s abdomen to detect signs of NEC, air bubbles, or gas in the baby’s intestine or abdominal cavity. These air bubbles or gas could indicate that a newborn baby’s bowel is damaged or there is a perforation to the baby’s intestines. These symptoms typically show that the baby is suffering from NEC.
NEC lawsuits filed by parents and guardians of premature babies and babies with low birth weight are classified as civil lawsuits. In a civil lawsuit, damages are typically sought by the claimants from the defendants, which in these cases refer to Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories.
The damages that can be recovered by the claimants against the defendants in NEC lawsuits are as follows:
- Medical Expenses: Medical expenses incurred by the newborn babies affected by NEC and NEC-related complications. These expenses generally include hospital stays, medical devices, medical professionals’ diagnosis and treatments, prescription drugs, surgery, and other healthcare costs incurred by the NEC-affected newborn baby. These medical expenses are not limited to those previously or incurred by the infant baby affected by NEC; instead, they could include all related future medical costs to be incurred by the child.
- Loss of Consortium: This type of damage refers to the deprivation of the benefits of a familial relationship incurred due to the injuries caused by the defendant. In the unfortunate event that a child affected by NEC has passed away, the parents or guardians could claim loss of consortium damages since they were deprived of the relationship with the baby. Moreover, this claim may be recovered if the child’s injury or illness negatively impacted the companionship and emotional support that the parents used to share with the child.
- Lost Wages and Reduced Earning Capability: The parents or guardians of babies that incurred NEC or NEC-related complications could recover any lost wages if they had to take time off from their job to attend to the needs of their NEC-affected child. More so, these parents and guardians can claim future lost wages or even reduced or lost earning capacity if their child has developed a permanent and lifelong disability from NEC and they anticipate attending to their child’s needs.
- Pain and Suffering: Severe NEC cases and complications affect the most vulnerable newborn babies. The effects of NEC and its complications are not only physically painful for the infant child’s weak body but also emotionally tolling to the parents and guardians of the baby. Thus, an NEC lawsuit could reasonably seek compensation for the pain and suffering endured by the child and their loved ones.
- Wrongful Death: In a devastating event that an infant dies due to NEC or NEC-related complications, their parents or guardians can file a wrongful death suit against the defendants and seek compensation for the death of their child. Here, the family can seek compensation not only for the medical expenses incurred by the child and pain and suffering incurred by them and the child but also for any funeral and burial costs.
NEC lawsuits are still ongoing and are generally in their early stages, so it is difficult to provide a hard dollar estimate on the potential value of these types of claims. However, given the severity of the allegations by the claimants to Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories, it is reasonable to expect a high dollar amount given the seriousness of the claims and the vulnerable quality of the victims.
The following circumstances linked to the effect of the baby formulas produced by Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories on premature babies and babies born with low birth weight could dramatically affect the value of the NEC lawsuits filed in court:
- The babies’ ongoing medical care needs and treatment as they try to fight and recover from NEC and NEC-related complications. In a study published by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2015, it is estimated that the average cost of having a surgical treatment for NEC is around $400,000 to $500,000.
- The pain and suffering incurred and continue to be incurred by the defenseless babies and their respective families.
- The consequences of the child developing lifelong NEC-related complications.
- Wrongful death cases in the unfortunate event that a child passed away due to NEC or NEC-related complications.
- The psychological trauma suffered by the parents and guardians of premature and low birth weight babies affected by NEC.
- Financial hardships acquired by the family of newborn babies affected by NEC and NEC-related complications. These economic hardships may not even be for the infant’s medical care as it may include loss of wages incurred by the parents or guardians as they attend to the needs of their newborn affected by NEC.