Reckitt unit hit with $60 million verdict in Enfamil baby formula case in Illinois

By Thomson Reuters Mar 14, 2024 | 4:53 PM

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – An Illinois jury has ordered Reckitt Benckiser unit Mead Johnson to pay $60 million to the mother of a premature baby who died of an intestinal disease after being fed the company’s Enfamil baby formula.

The jury in an Illinois state court in St. Clair County on Wednesday found that Mead Johnson was negligent and that it failed to warn of the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). The disease, which causes the death of bowel tissue, mostly affects premature newborns and has a fatality rate of about 15% to 40%.

The $60 million verdict includes compensation for plaintiff Jasmine Watson’s loss and grief, and for the pain and suffering of her baby, Chance Dean.

The verdict comes in the first trial out of hundreds of lawsuits claiming that various Enfamil and Abbott Laboratories’ Similac formulas caused NEC.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, there is evidence that formula increases the risk of NEC in premature infants compared with breast milk.

“This verdict confirms what Mead Johnson has known for years: cow’s-milk based baby formula causes NEC in preterm infants, often with fatal consequences,” Ben Whiting, a lawyer for Watson, said in a statement.

Mead Johnson said in a statement that it was disappointed with the verdict and would appeal it.

“We continue to believe that the allegations from the plaintiff’s lawyers in this case were not supported by the science or experts in the medical community,” it said.

More than 400 NEC lawsuits against Mead Johnson and Abbott are pending in federal court in Chicago, and others, like Watson’s are in state courts.

Plaintiffs in the cases say that the companies concealed the fact that their formula, including products made specifically for premature infants and others, was riskier than alternatives like donor milk.

The companies have denied the allegations.

The NEC lawsuits are separate from ongoing litigation against Abbott over the shutdown of its Sturgis, Michigan, plant and subsequent recall of batches of baby formula for possible contamination, which contributed to a nationwide formula shortage in 2022.

Abbott has denied that it distributed tainted formula.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis)