What Is an NEC Lawsuit?

October 28, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
What Is an NEC Lawsuit? Necrotizing enterocolitis can be as devastating as it sounds, especially since this condition targets newborns born prematurely or with a low birth weight. Necrotizing enterocolitis is not only deadly, but newborns that survive this condition can still endure debilitating consequences that will forever damage the rest of their lives. That is why, if your child died because of necrotizing enterocolitis or continues to suffer because of it, you need to fight back and pursue the justice they deserve. Most cases of necrotizing enterocolitis didn't need to happen—and wouldn't have, but for hospitals that administered cow's milk-based baby formula to newborns. To prepare you to take on this challenging legal fight, we have created the following blog post. In it, we will go over everything you need to know about necrotizing enterocolitis, the lawsuits that you can bring as a result of this condition, and how an experienced product liability lawyer can help you through this horrifying time in your life and fight for the financial relief you are entitled to.

What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a severe gastrointestinal issue that generally affects premature babies or babies born underweight. This condition tends to inflame the intestinal tissue, causing it to die. In some instances, a hole may form in the baby's intestine resulting in bacteria leaking into the abdomen or bloodstream. NEC will usually develop within two to six weeks after birth, and if it is not correctly diagnosed or treated, it can lead to life-threatening issues and severe medical problems.

Possible Necrotizing Enterocolitis Causes

Although the exact cause of NEC in babies is not yet known, many experts believe that being deprived of oxygen during delivery could be a significant contributing factor to this condition. This is because the lack of oxygen flow to the intestine can result in it to weaken and allow bacteria from food to damage the baby's intestinal tissues. This damage can often permanently scar or narrow parts of the infant's intestine, causing lifelong complications. Or in more severe NEC cases, the damage to the intestine tissue can lead to intestinal perforation and spillage of stool into the infant's stomach, causing severe infections or death. However, experts also believe that the following factors may also contribute to this condition:
  • An underdeveloped intestine
  • Injury to the intestinal lining
  • Heavy growth of bacteria in the intestine that erodes the wall of the intestines
  • Infection of the intestine
In addition, studies have found that feeding premature infants cow's milk-based formula increases the risk of them developing NEC. In fact, one research study found that preterm babies were six to 10 times more likely to develop NEC if they were fed fortified milk or cow's milk-based formula than those who were breastfed.

Common Necrotizing Enterocolitis Symptoms

Even though NEC symptoms are unique and often vary depending on the specific child, the more common symptoms that tend to result from this condition include:
  • Discoloration of the abdomen
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Green fluid in the stomach
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Fever
  • Breathing issues
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Refusing to eat
  • Not gaining weight
  • Change to the heart rate
As you can see, NEC symptoms often resemble symptoms that may indicate other digestive conditions, which can make diagnosing the condition more challenging. However, it is important to get this issue checked over by a medical professional right away so that the child can begin treatment immediately. This is the only way to help prevent the condition from becoming life-threatening.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Generally, the doctor will first examine the baby and check for a swollen belly or other NEC symptoms. They may also order further tests to verify this condition, including:
  • A blood test to check for signs of infection or bacteria
  • A fecal test to check if there is blood in the baby's stool
  • An X-ray to view the abdomen and check for signs of NEC, such as gas air bubbles around the intestine or the abdominal cavity, which can indicate perforation or a damaged bowel
If the doctors catch NEC early enough, the condition can often be treated without the need for surgery. These treatment options include:
  • Discontinuing the feedings
  • Using antibiotics and intravenous fluids
  • Removing air and fluid from the intestines and stomach
  • Monitoring the healing of the intestinal tissue through the use of X-rays
However, if the child has a severe case of NEC, the infant may need surgery to remove the damaged bowel or intestine. A surgeon may also need to perform a procedure to connect part of the intestine to an opening on the abdomen or drain the peritoneal cavity.

The Doctor's Duty of Care and How NEC Can Lead to a Medical Malpractice Suit

A doctor and other medical professionals owe their patients a “duty of care.” This duty of care refers to specific medical standards that are recognized by the profession as being acceptable medical treatments by a reasonably prudent medical care professional under similar circumstances. If it is determined that the doctor did not meet this duty, then negligence may be established, and the patient may have a viable medical malpractice claim against them. As a result, when a doctor is caring for a newborn, they must recognize the signs of NEC and take the proper action to treat this condition. If a doctor fails to recognize these signs or does not properly treat them and the child suffers significant damages or dies because of the condition, the newborn's parents can proceed with a medical malpractice lawsuit. Today, parents have filed NEC medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors and other health care providers, alleging their failure to diagnose and adequately treat NEC resulted in children dying or suffering significant medical injuries. If you believe your doctor caused your child's NEC, reach out to an experienced NEC lawyer right away. An attorney can review your claim, determine if your case meets the characteristics of a valid medical malpractice lawsuit, and help you pursue maximum compensation.

Other Necrotizing Enterocolitis Lawsuits—Going After Formula Manufacturers

If a baby is born underweight or prematurely, they may require extra nutrition to help them grow and avoid numerous other medical conditions such as dehydration or weight loss. Yet, since nursing is not always possible, many doctors and parents may decide to supplement the baby's nutrition with formula. Unfortunately, providing formula to a premature baby is not always safe. As discussed above, cow's milk-based formula can create numerous issues for a preemie, even increasing their risk of developing a deadly condition like NEC. Consequently, parents whose premature babies were seriously injured or passed away after ingesting these formulas have already filed multiple lawsuits. These parents are suing the formula manufacturers for medical expenses and other damages related to their child's injuries or death, claiming that since research shows that cow's milk-based formula products have a high risk of causing NEC and death in premature infants, manufacturers should have provided proper warnings of these risks. However, these manufacturers did not change their packaging, guidelines, instructions, warnings, or even their products to address this issue. In fact, the instructions and the warnings on these formulas are not only vague, they do not notify consumers or hospital staff that the formula can significantly increase the risk of NEC and death or provide detailed guidance on how to avoid NEC when feeding it to a newborn.

Who Can You Sue in a Necrotizing Enterocolitis Formula Lawsuit?

So far, Abbott Laboratories (ABT) (the maker of Similac) and Mead Johnson Nutrition (MJN) (the maker of Enfamil), two formula manufacturers who created high-calorie, cow's milk-based products designed for premature babies, are facing NEC formula lawsuits. While these lawsuits are still in the early stages of litigation, the allegations arising from these lawsuits indicate:
  • Enfamil and Similac baby formula dramatically increases the risk of premature babies developing necrotizing enterocolitis.
  • Billions of dollars have been used towards marketing the use of Similac and Enfamil for premature babies who are still in the hospital. Often, discouraging mothers from breastfeeding their children in favor of using this formula.
  • Enfamil formula warnings are overly broad and often fail to adequately disclose the severe risks of NEC or death for premature babies.
  • Enfamil Human Milk Fortifier and Similac Human Milk Fortifier were products introduced to parents of premature babies that misleadingly suggested that these products were derived from breast milk, when in fact they were cow's milk products.
  • Despite Enfamil and Similac manufacturers knowing the NEC risks their baby formulas could cause, they continue to sell their products to unsuspecting parents, health care professionals, and hospitals, generating huge profits at the families' expense.
That is why, if you believe your baby suffered from necrotizing enterocolitis injuries or died after being fed baby formula that was made from cow's milk, reach out to an experienced NEC lawyer as soon as possible. These attorneys can review your case, determine if you have a viable claim against the formula manufacturers, and help you figure out which legal options you should pursue.

What Is the Deadline to File a Necrotizing Enterocolitis Claim?

The statute of limitations is a law set by every state that mandates the maximum amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit following an alleged offense. If these individuals do not file their suit within that allotted time, they can be barred from pursuing compensation for their injuries and losses. However, what makes these deadlines challenging to calculate is that there are often exceptions to the rule that can impact this filing period by shortening or extending an individual's time to file their case. For these reasons, if you believe you have an NEC claim, it is best not to wait to pursue legal action. Rather, you should reach out to a skilled NEC lawyer as soon as possible. These attorneys can review your case, determine the maximum amount of time you have to file your claim, and ensure that your legal documents are correctly prepared and filed before time expires.

How Can a Product Liability Lawyer Help You Fight For the Justice You Deserve?

Pursuing legal action against a doctor or a baby formula manufacturer for a child's NEC injuries or death is complicated, stressful, and requires a thorough understanding of the laws. That is why in these situations, you need an experienced NEC lawyer on your side, helping you get through this difficult ordeal and taking on this complex legal battle on your behalf. Once retained, NEC lawyers can:
  • Go over the incident with you in detail, evaluate the viability of the claim, and help you determine the best legal options you should pursue.
  • Answer all the questions you have regarding your case and the legal process involved with it.
  • Thoroughly investigate what happened and secure the evidence needed to prove fault and damages.
  • Handle all the legal forms required in these types of lawsuits and make sure they are filed on time.
  • Take on all the discussions and negotiations with the other side and ensure they go after the just settlement you need.
  • Bring in experts such as specialists and medical professionals to help prove liability and substantiate your claim.
  • Proceed to trial if the other side is unwilling to negotiate fairly and fight hard for a successful resolution to your case.
If your baby is suffering from a diagnosis of necrotizing enterocolitis or has sadly passed away from complications related to this condition, do not hesitate any longer to get the legal help you need. Instead, contact a knowledgeable and skilled NEC lawyer today, and let these attorneys provide you the legal support you need to achieve the justice you and your family deserve. The Dolman Law Group works with local counsel in any jurisdiction outside Florida for the purpose of filing lawsuits in jurisdictions wherein we are not licensed. Thus, we will follow each State's ethical rules to ensure a local attorney is involved.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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