December 2004

NBC17.com also did a story about my Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo lawsuit. From their article:

“Twenty-four outbreaks have been linked to fairs and petting zoos since 1995,” said attorney William Marler, of the Seattle law firm Marler Clark. “Any operator of a petting zoo should be well-versed in the ways of preventing E. coli infections among their patrons and should have procedures in place to do just that. At this petting zoo, procedures were woefully inadequate to prevent an outbreak.”

As the Associated Press reported yesterday, I filed my lawsuit against Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo Friday on behalf of my clients whose young children got HUS from E. coli contamination at the North Carolina State Fair. Some of these families have more than $100,000 in medical bills, so this won’t be a cheap lawsuit. Not that HUS cases ever are.

And not that there’s any amount of money in the world that could restore what these families have lost. One family had two preschool boys who became severely ill, with one boy hospitalized for 10 days and the other for 17 days. All of the children involved in the lawsuit were 3 or younger.

As the AP reports:

“Twenty-four outbreaks have been linked to fairs and petting zoos since 1995,” Marler said after the lawsuit was filed. “At this petting zoo, procedures were woefully inadequate to prevent an outbreak.”

North Carolina health officials announced Thursday that the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo exhibition at the state fair in October. This was a heartbreaking outbreak — one that caused 15 young children to get HUS. Four out of the 15 are still on kidney dialysis. Half of the 108 people infected with E. coli were 5 years old or younger, and two-thirds were under 18.

As the Associated Press reported yesterday:

Health inspectors found that those infected at the State Fair were most likely to have fallen down in manure, touched manure, stepped on manure or had animals jump on them.

Children who were sucking their thumbs or pacifiers or drinking from a sippy cup while visiting the petting zoo were also more likely to be infected, the report said.

The report said Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo “had implemented guidelines from a national group of public health veterinarians to encourage hand hygiene to protect visitors from illness. Signs and hand sanitizing stations were present.”

However, because very few E. coli bacteria can cause infection, those measures were not enough, the report said.

Another news article on my two most recent Chi-Chi’s lawsuits, on behalf of Bennie Martino and Angelo Palitti.

Chris Osher of the Tribune-Review reports:

The lawsuits, both filed by Seattle lawyer William Marler, allege that the method Chi-Chi’s used to store green onions, which health officials have identified as the likely culprits, essentially created “hepatitis soup.”

“It was definitely the last thing I needed to go through at that point,” Martino said. “It was just crazy. Now, I get creditors calling me and sending me letters. I tell them it’s in litigation. That’s all I can do right now.”

He said his adopted 6-year-old son helped him pull through.

“He’d come to the hospital every day and see me laid up like that,” Martino said. “The most important thing in my life is my boy and being here for him.”

Lawsuits against Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant, the center of a major hepatitis A outbreak last year, continue to trickle in.

As KDKA.com reported:

Two more federal lawsuits were filed this week against the chain for making what one attorney calls “hepatitis soup.”

Bennie Martino, of Monaca, and Angelo Palitti, of Aliquippa, say they too were sickened by green onions when they ate at the chain restaurant in a Beaver County mall last fall.

The suits were filed by Seattle attorney William Marler, who is representing numerous other victims in the case. Nearly 700 people were sickened in the outbreak and four died from complications. Marler says improper storage of the green onions by Chi-Chi’s led to the outbreak

I was featured in the Food Protection Report (December 2004 Vol. 20 No. 12), talking about E. coli O157:H7 and fair outbreaks, specifically regarding the prevention measures taken after the 2002 Lane County outbreak in Oregon… and how kids are still getting sick, even when the fair-runners do everything right.

“I think counties and states may have to reassess whether it is worth having fairs, petting zoos, and other events that bring people in close contact with animals,” suggests prominent food litigation lawyer William Marler of the Seattle law firm Marler Clark. “I know it sounds un-American, but we are now having outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 linked to these events almost on a yearly basis,” Marler told Food Protection Report.

Infections picked up at events where people and animals mingle can spread throughout the community. Since 1998, at least seven E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks have been traced to fairs. The most recent outbreak occurred in North Carolina, where an investigation is ongoing.

Although the specifics of each E. coli outbreak at fairs differ, Marler says, they all have a common denominator and the pathogen lurks in ways that were not seen decades ago. A 2003 study by USDA found E. coli O157:H7 was not only commonly present at fairs but that levels of the bacteria were similar to those found in commercially reared livestock, which surprised researchers.

Continue Reading Are Fairs, Petting Zoos Just Too Dangerous?

To the editor:

Regarding the recent outbreak of E. coli across the state, the blame now apparently rests squarely on the shoulders of departing Commissioner Britt Cobb and the Department of Agriculture under his watch. Mr. Cobb and the state agency he oversaw are charged with “… controlling and eliminating animal diseases and ensuring general animal health.” This according to the department’s own web site.

The E. coli outbreak at the N.C. State Fair last month which infected over 100 fair goers, half of them children, illustrates the unreserved lack of attention and prioritization by the former commissioner’s Veterinary Division and exposes serious flaws in judgment and oversight at the very event which is expected to showcase the Agriculture Department’s best side. But alas, Mr. Cobb’s apparent lack of experience failed those who have entrusted him with ensuring their health and safety.

Sobering questions come to mind. Why were there not enough hand washing stations? Why were patrons, including parents of children, charged a fee for hand sanitizer? Why was all petting zoo livestock not tested for E. coli if possible?

Mr. Cobb is currently contesting the results of the commissioner of agriculture election, even though he clearly lost. He is maneuvering for another special statewide election to undo the will of the majority who elected his opponent Steve Troxler. Why would voters place their trust and confidence in an appointee such as Mr. Cobb who is clearly more preoccupied with his political career than the welfare of the children who patron the petting zoos at the N.C. State Fair under his administration?

Reagan Sugg
Greensboro

Chris Cline of the Daily Journal wrote a moving article about two-year-old Emilie Allen, of Bonne Terre, who contracted E. coli in September and is still suffering complications. She was in the hospital for nearly two months after suffering kidney failure. She was on dialysis until October 19.

According to the article, the St. Francois County Health Department conducted routine inspections at two local restaurants on Oct. 4 in an attempt to identify where the strain of E. coli originated that infected the 2-year-old Bonne Terre girl. Officials said no direct links were made to the origin of the strain of E. coli 0157:H7. In addition to inspecting the food establishments, a water sample out of the private well at the residence of the Allens was also tested. The water sample also came back negative.

A benefit account for Emilie is still open at First State Community Bank locations.

As Randi Bjornstad of The Register-Guard reported in the article Back from the Brink: Families of children who contracted E. coli count blessings — and bills, I’ve advised my clients to drop their lawsuits regarding the E. coli outbreak at the 2002 Lane County Fair. Not an easy decision, for me or for my clients, but after doing a lot of research and taking dozens of depositions of Lane County officials, family members of those affected by the outbreak and field experts, I saw no other choice.

From the article:

In 2002, when the Lane County outbreak happened, “airborne or dustborne transmission of E. coli was still a novel concept,” Marler said. “Whether that’s exactly how these people got the infection, we just don’t know. Some washed their hands, others didn’t. Some touched animals, others didn’t. Some of the children walked through the barns, some never got out of their strollers. We just couldn’t pinpoint, `This is what the fair didn’t do, this is what they should have done.’ Without that, we couldn’t win a lawsuit.”

He and the families wanted more than just a financial settlement.

“Most state, county and local entities are either immune from lawsuits or have caps on awards,” Marler said. “There’s very little economic incentive for them to change. I’m not suggesting that all award caps should be removed, but I think government officials should look at these situations as if it were their grandkids who had the problem.”

If they did, Kevin Closson believes, it might cut E. coli outbreaks in the future. Closson’s daughter, Madeline, then 3, spent two weeks in Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, undergoing daily dialysis treatments for a week and requiring blood transfusions.

“During dialysis … they suck the blood out, clean it up, cool it down and put it back in,” Closson said. “It takes several hours, which is one thing for an adult but way too much for a little child, so they have to put them under anesthesia to do it. At one point, in one day, Maddy was under three times. The money wasn’t as big a thing to us as witnessing what all that did to our 3-year-old’s body.”