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Abbott Laboratories cleared by jury in US Similac meningitis lawsuit

By Mark Astley+

20-Jan-2014
Last updated on 21-Jan-2014 at 10:28 GMT

Abbott Laboratories cleared by jury in US Similac meningitis lawsuit

A US jury has dismissed claims against Abbott Laboratories that a bacterial contamination in one of its Similac brand powdered infant formula products caused a newborn child to develop meningitis and suffer brain damage.

Last week, a federal jury at the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa absolved Abbott of design, manufacturing and warning defect claims. The claims relate to allegations that a newborn in the state called Jeanie Kunkel contracted bacterial meningitis and suffered brain damage after consuming Similac Neosure powdered infant formula contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii. 

Security National Bank of Sioux City, acting as the conservator for five-year old Jeanie, filed the lawsuit against the Illinois-based infant formula manufacturer in February 2011 seeking “damages in an amount that will reasonably compensate JMK for her injuries and damages.”

Last Friday, however, a jury dismissed all claims against Abbott Laboratories.

In a statement sent to DairyReporter.com, Abbott Laboratories said it was "pleased with the verdict."

“Healthy babies and children are at the heart of what we do, and we recognize the challenges of child’s circumstances for the Kunkel family," said the statement.

"Abbott has, and will continue to, extensively test infant formula products in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities before release to assure that they meet the nutritional needs of infants and to assure the safety of the products,” it added.

Negative Enterobacter sakazakii result

Jeanie, who was referred to in court documents as JMK, was born on 14 April 2008 at Saint Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Upon discharge, her mother was handed a gift bag containing Similac Neosure powdered infant formula and liquid infant formula manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, according to court documents.

The lawsuit said that on 24 April 2008, after being fed the Similac Neosure powdered infant formula, Jeanie began showing signs of infection. Days later, at Saint Luke’s Regional Medical Center, she was diagnosed with neonatal Enterobacter sakazakii meningitis, which later resulted in brain damage.

Enterobacter sakazakii, which is also known as Cronobacter, can survive in very dry conditions, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It has been found in dry foods such as powdered infant formula, powdered milk, herbal teas, and starches.

After Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests failed to find Enterobacter sakazakii in Jeanie’s mother kitchen, the conservator, Security National Bank of Sioux City, alleged that the “source of bacteria that caused JMK’s neonatal Enterobacter sakazakii meningitis was Abbott’s Similac powdered infant formula.”

Abbott Laboratories’ lawyers stated during the case, however, that the unit of Similac Neosure powdered infant formula in question and dozens of others from the same batch were tested by Abbott, the FDA, and the CDC. Each returned a negative Enterobacter sakazakii result, they said.

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