LAS VEGAS (AP) — Four baby food makers were accused Wednesday in Nevada state court of producing baby food tainted with toxic metals and harming at least seven Las Vegas children who were diagnosed with autism.
Attorneys Will Kemp and Robert Eglet said the basis for their lawsuit was a Feb. 4 congressional report alleging the makers of Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organic and Happy Baby products “knowingly sell” tainted baby foods to unsuspecting parents. The attorneys said other families and children in Nevada could be affected.
In a statement, Beech-Nut declined to comment about the lawsuit. “We want to assure parents that Beech-Nut products are, and have always been, safe and nutritious,” company spokeswoman Katie Whitmore said.
Representatives of the other manufacturers and the owners of three Hispanic community grocery markets named in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages about the case.
Eglet and Kemp said they represent parents of the autistic children, now ages 6 to 16, who were fed baby food containing the toxic metals years ago, when they were infants and toddlers.
They said their clients shopped at the three Hispanic businesses: Mariana’s, Latino Mercado and La Bonita. Kemp said it was not clear if the stores knew dangers of the products being sold.
Health officials say high amounts of metals can affect developing babies’ brains, causing symptoms including behavioral problems that show up as the children become older.
Parent Andre Haynes, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told reporters that as his son has grown, he has become less able to focus on tasks and understand people speaking to him, and the boy's frustration level is higher.
The 26-page complaint filed in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas seeks unspecified monetary damages and the costs of ongoing medical monitoring under a Nevada law that entitles people exposed to a toxic substance to periodic testing for their conditions.
The lawsuit is not the first in the U.S. based on a 59-page report by staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.
A class-action complaint was filed Feb. 18 against Beech-Nut in federal court in New York state on behalf of a woman from Yorba Linda, California, who said she bought baby food containing “harmful levels of heavy metals” for her two children at a grocery store in Ramsey, New Jersey.
In Las Vegas, Eglet and Kemp have had notable courtroom success in other complex lawsuits.
They won hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements against pharmaceutical firms and health care companies after a Las Vegas hepatitis C outbreak in 2007. Eglet is handling Nevada’s largest lawsuits against drug manufacturers accused of fueling the nation’s opioid addiction crisis.
Eglet headed a case that led to an $800 million settlement involving casino-hotel owner MGM Resorts International and more than 4,400 relatives and victims of the 2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting that was the deadliest in recent U.S. history.
Last month, Eglet filed a civil complaint in Nevada state court accusing 10 big U.S. auto insurance companies of overcharging customers during the coronavirus pandemic by failing to account for a drop in driving and a decrease in crashes.
However, Eglet had little success with a bid to get the People’s Republic of China to answer a federal lawsuit filed in Nevada almost a year ago blaming China’s government for the pandemic and seeking damages for U.S. small businesses. That case was dismissed Jan. 25.