Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical component used in polycarbonate plastic drinking containers to make the plastic shatter-resistant. For years, Phillips Electronics Corp. North America used BPA in its Avent brand plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. Other baby bottle manufacturers used BPA as well.
BPA leaches out of the plastic, particularly when the plastic is heated. Numerous studies in the last decade have shown that BPA can have harmful health effects, especially on infants and children. Some studies have linked low levels of BPA to an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, damage to the central nervous system, and lower sperm counts. The chemical has also been found to accelerate sexual development in children. The FDA has expressed “some concern” over low levels of BPA, and its studies are ongoing.
During this time, Phillips and other manufacturers continued to use BPA in their products without telling consumers that the chemical was in the plastic or warning them about potential hazards. They also said consumers could wash the products in the dishwasher and sterilize them in boiling water, despite knowing that heat speeds up the leaching.
When BPA hazards became publicly known, consumers in several states filed class actions against Phillips and other bottle and cup manufacturers, claiming the defendants fraudulently omitted material facts in violation of various deceptive trade practices acts. They also alleged unjust enrichment and breach of implied warranty, among other claims.
The suits were consolidated into multidistrict litigation in the Western District of Missouri.
The defendants claimed they had no duty to disclose because the presence of BPA in their products and any possible dangers were public knowledge. They also argued that many studies have concluded that low levels of BPA are safe.
Phillips settled with the plaintiffs, agreeing to stop using BPA in its bottles and cups. It will also send refunds or vouchers to customers who purchased the products and either stopped using them or replaced them with BPA-free products when they learned of the dangers.
The court has preliminarily approved the settlement. Suits against the other manufacturers are ongoing.
Citation: In re: Bisphenol-A (BPA) Polycarbonate Plastic Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 4:08-md-01967 (W.D. Mo. Jan. 7, 2011).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Edith M. Kallas and Patrick Sheehan, both of New York City; and AAJ member Thomas V. Bender, Kansas City, Missouri.