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JURY AWARDS TWINS $5.5 MILLION IN BABY-FORMULA SUIT

A State Supreme Court jury in Chautauqua County has awarded $5.5 million to twin girls after finding they were left mentally disabled for life by a deficient baby formula fed to them as infants, a lawyer in the case said Saturday.

Kara and Kinsey Benson, 18, whose family lived in Cassadaga at the time, were awarded $259,375 each for pain and suffering as well as $5 million in punitive damages, according to their attorney, Samuel Miserendino.

The girls' family filed the suit in 1989 against Syntex Corp. and Syntex Laboratory of Palo Alto, Calif., which produced Neomullsoy formula from about 1974 to 1979.

The twins were fed Neomullsoy, a soy-based formula, at their pediatrician's recommendation because they were having digestive problems while being breast-fed.

From then on, Miserendino said, they failed to thrive. "They didn't grow; they didn't gain weight," he said.

Their mother took them to specialists, who at first suspected a kidney ailment.

However, as similar cases began cropping up nationwide -- most of them among infants drinking Neomullsoy -- pediatricians re-examined the case.

They determined that the twins had an electrolyte imbalance caused by the formula. Such an imbalance can cause malnutrition and even death.

Lawyers for the girls claimed that the producers of Neomullsoy had stopped testing for the electrolyte chloride, an essential nutrient for growth.

They said that contrary to the company's claims, the formula was severely lacking in chloride and that the company was too slow to pull it from shelves.

The five-week trial, which ended last week in Mayville before Justice Joseph Gerace, is one of several across the country involving Neomullsoy.

Miserendino said he was assisted at the trial by the Lange, Simpson, Robinson and Somerville law firm of Birmingham, Ala., which has tried several similar suits against Syntex throughout the country.

Syntex officials could not be reached to comment. However, Miserendino said an appeal is expected.

He said he was pleased with the verdict.

"We said they (the two companies) were recklessly and wantonly negligent, and the jury agreed with us," he said. "They thought they could get away with it."

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