On January 4, the plaintiffs in 11 lawsuits against manufacturers of baby foods contaminated with heavy metals petitioned a federal panel to consolidate their claims for pretrial proceedings. The consolidation procedure, known as multidistrict litigation (MDL), would bring together active and future claims for the discovery process, bellwether trials, and pretrial settlement negotiations.
Law firms representing the baby food lawsuit plaintiffs have said that they are actively investigating upwards of 3,500 additional claims, which means that the litigation is likely to grow significantly in the coming months. The central allegation of the litigation accuses select producers of baby foods of refusing to reduce or eliminate heavy metals, like lead and mercury, in their products and failing to warn parents of the risks their products posed to the neurodevelopment of infants.
The consolidation of ongoing baby food autism lawsuits would represent a welcome breakthrough in parents’ efforts to hold irresponsible manufacturers accountable for their malfeasance.
Toxic Baby Food Attorneys Ask Federal Panel to Create Multidistrict Litigation
In a 25-page court filing, the attorneys representing plaintiffs in active toxic baby food autism lawsuits requested that the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) create multidistrict litigation for the streamlined resolution of their client’s claims. The motion to consolidate represents the second attempt to establish an MDL in the yearslong litigation.
The motion argues that the similarity of the plaintiffs’ claims and the common questions of law and fact which they raise necessitate consolidation for pretrial legal proceedings. In March 2021, plaintiffs filed a comparable request, which the JPML ultimately rejected on account of procedural complications and sharp divisions amongst the prosecution.
The Differences Between Multidistrict Litigation and Class Action Lawsuits
Although “multidistrict litigation” and “class action lawsuits” both involve multiple claims cooperating together for legal proceedings, they are markedly different in procedure, scope, and duration. Multidistrict litigation facilitates the streamlined resolution of individual and separate lawsuits for pretrial proceedings alone. Consequently, plaintiffs retain their own counsel and their cases are sent back (remanded) to the court in which they filed suit when the MDL is over.
In addition, multidistrict litigation is an exclusively federal civil procedure that requires approval from the JPML. Class action lawsuits, on the other hand, involve the advancement of a single representative case for the duration of all legal proceedings. Thus, the fate of the representative lawsuit is the fate of all class members’ claims. Class actions may occur at all levels of the American judiciary, and their courts of origin determine whether or not to grant certification, rather than the JPML or another comparable body.
Baby Food Manufacturers Collaborated in the Production, Testing, and Sale of Contaminated Products
One of the most important criteria that the JPML assesses when considering whether or not to create an MDL is the risk of duplicative discovery. If multiple cases advance in various districts throughout the country against the same or similar set of defendants, the evidentiary collection is bound to overlap and create unnecessary redundancies. In addition, the standards that the various courts establish for the discovery process may conflict.
Consequently, plaintiffs who wish to convince the JPML must sufficiently prove that the establishment of an MDL would minimize these risks and standardize critical legal proceedings. In order to do so, the recent motion filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in toxic baby food lawsuits points to several questions of fact common to all extant claims, including:
The Baby Food Council (2019-2021)
In response to various reports from consumer safety and rights organizations, a clique of baby food manufacturers and third parties established the Baby Food Council, in 2019. The convention was designed to address the levels of heavy metals in baby food products manufactured by the companies and to promulgate a set of industry-wide standards.
However, the council made little headway in meaningfully compensating for an effective lack in federal standards for lead, mercury, or cadmium in their products. By 2021, the Baby Food Council disassembled without any progress and in the midst of extensive congressional investigations. The plaintiffs assert that it is imperative for the prosecution to investigate the origins, purpose, activities, and members of the Baby Food Council in a consistent fashion.
Co-Manufacturing Agreements Between Defendants in Toxic Baby Food Litigation
Another reason to establish an MDL for standard discovery proceedings pertains to the investigation of multiple co-manufacturing agreements between the defendants. The abbreviated “co-mans” effectively involved extensive coordination in the manufacture and sale of contaminated baby foods which resulted in plaintiffs’ injuries.
For example, under certain of the co-manufacturing agreements, one defendant would acquire the ingredients for and produce the baby foods which another defendant subsequently sold under its own brand name. In addition, the co-mans resulted in the exchange of information on the levels of heavy metal in the ingredients that were used in the production of unsafe products, revealing the defendants’ awareness of the toxicity of their harmful baby foods.
The Link Between Toxic Baby Foods and Autism
The defendants in the active litigation will likely seek to undermine the credibility of the prosecution’s case by citing the paucity of clinical literature that links baby foods to neurodevelopmental disorders, notably:
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
However, plaintiffs refer to several authoritative studies in order to satisfy the causality standard in personal injury cases, including studies from:
- Chemical Research in Toxicology, 2019
- BMC Public Health, 2020
- Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2023
In addition to warnings from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and a 2016 consensus statement from TENDR, these peer-reviewed articles are poised to assume important roles in persuading judges and juries that the defendants’ products are causally linked to plaintiffs’ injuries.
Which Companies Are Being Sued Over Heavy Metal Levels in Baby Foods?
As the convocation of the Baby Food Council revealed, manufacturers of toxic baby products have known for years that their products could pose considerable risks to the neurodevelopment of infants. Moreover, the litany of scientific reports and clinical research that establish a causal link between infantile exposure to lead, mercury, and arsenic and ASD or ADHD should have prompted these manufacturers to take appropriate precautions to test and safeguard their products.
Instead, well-known companies like Walmart and Gerber not only failed to eliminate or radically reduce heavy metal levels in their products but refrained from properly informing parents of the threat they posed to their babies’ health. In so doing, they fundamentally breached the duty of care they owed to consumers and exposed themselves to liability, litigation, and accountability.
At this point in time, the defendants in the heavy metal baby food litigation include:
- Hain Celestial, Inc.
- Gerber Products Company
- Nurture, Inc.
- Plum Organics
- Walmart, Inc.
- Sprout Foods, Inc.
Common Damages in Baby Food Autism Lawsuits
The long-term consequences of disruptions to infantile neurodevelopment are considerable. Behavioral abnormalities, lowered IQs, and even neurodevelopmental disorders are common, all of which may disadvantage young children as they grow.
Over time, the economic and non-economic losses connected to these physical and mental complications can rapidly accumulate. In the baby food autism litigation, parents and their children are currently in pursuit of compensation for such losses, which include:
- Medical costs
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Decreased earning potential
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Decreased quality of life
Contact an Experienced Toxic Baby Food Lawyer Today
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