Judge tosses out some claims in Abbott baby formula litigation

FILE PHOTO: Abbott Laboratories logo is displayed on a screen at the NYSE in New York

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Abbott Laboratories persuaded a federal judge to dismiss some claims in nationwide litigation over recalled baby formula.

In a decision on Monday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly in Chicago dismissed claims by parents pursuing only "economic loss" claims related to Similac and other formula that they said had a "substantial risk" of bacteria contamination.

The parents said they would not have bought or would have paid less for formula but for the Abbott Park, Illinois-based company's claims that it was safe.

But the judge said the parents lacked standing to sue, saying they did not show which Abbott products or lots were contaminated, or that their children experienced symptoms.

"In short, the plaintiffs received exactly what they say they bargained for: safe infant formula," Kennelly wrote.

The judge also issued decisions that narrowed but did not dismiss two related lawsuits against Abbott.

In one, 28 plaintiffs brought personal injury claims alleging that Abbott's formula caused salmonella contamination, bacterial meningitis and other health problems.

The other lawsuit by eight plaintiffs alleged that Similac products contained heavy metals and were manufactured in unsanitary decisions.

The litigation followed Abbott's February 2022 closure of a baby formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan and subsequent recalls, which together caused a nationwide shortage of formula.

Last May, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf told Congress that conditions in the plant were "egregiously unsanitary." The plant reopened in July.

In a statement, Abbott said it believed the lawsuits were without merit. It also said no "sealed, distributed product" from the Michigan plant had tested positive for salmonella or for Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacteria that can cause meningitis.

Sam Geisler, a lawyer at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, & Overholtz co-leading the litigation, said the plaintiffs were reviewing their next steps.

"The end goal has been, is now, and will continue to be holding Abbott accountable for putting the lives of the most vulnerable at risk," Geisler said in an email.

Separate nationwide litigation before a different Chicago judge involves claims that Abbott's formula caused a deadly illness in preterm infants. Abbott has denied those claims.

The cases are: In re Recalled Abbott Infant Formula Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 22-04148; and Willoughby et al v. Abbott Laboratories in the same court, Nos. 22-01322 and 23-00338.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Himani Sarkar)