May 2005

I’m quoted by Beacon Journal medical writer Tracy Wheeler’s recent article Avoid Zoo Fever, which addresses the issue of fair safety precautions — like handwashing — to avoid getting E. coli at petting zoos and fairs. She also addresses the hidden risks, which handwashing won’t help.
From the article:

Sometimes, though, the risk is hidden. Consider what happened at the Medina County Fair in 2000, when 27 Northeast Ohioans were sickened by E. coli-contaminated water and ice used by vendors. The problem occurred when water near the cattle barn was siphoned into the water lines by hoses left lying in puddles. Washing their hands after petting the cows wouldn’t have helped them at all.
“So what do we do?” asked Seattle attorney Bill Marler of the Marler Clark firm, which files lawsuits nationwide related to bacterial illness. “Banish the county fair? Close down petting zoos?”
No, he said. But state legislatures should pass laws requiring hand-washing stations, signs explaining the threat of E. coli and other pathogens and the risk to small children, sanitary walkways and railings, ventilation in buildings to reduce airborne contamination, and a ban of food sales near areas where there is contact with animals.
Only Pennsylvania has passed such legislation.
“Perhaps these laws won’t eliminate the risk to public health,” he said, “but for a minimal investment, organizers can reduce the risk of sending kids to the hospital — or worse.”

At least thirty people in Kershaw County, South Carolina have become ill with an apparent foodborne illness. While public health officials work to discover the bacteria or virus making people ill, those sickened may be turning to the Internet for information on foodborne illnesses. Marler Clark has re-launched its Web site about foodborne illness, www.FoodborneIllness.com. Since the site was re-designed and launched on April 14, 2005, over 15,500 unique visitors have used the site.
FoodborneIllness.com offers practical information about several forms of food poisoning, including the symptoms and risks associated with infection, how infections are diagnosed, and possible ways to prevent infection. The information on this site lends itself to the media, individuals, and the families of individuals who have been affected adversely by eating bad food.

Our client Ernie Lyon is the focus of an article in today’s Star Bulletin after we filed a lawsuit yesterday against Honolulu airline caterer Gate Gourmet yesterday:

Ernie Lyon accused the company of serving food contaminated with the Shigella bacteria, causing him to develop a 104-degree fever and accrue $3,000 in medical bills. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Gate Gourmet in an April letter of unsanitary conditions at its Honolulu kitchen, including employees preparing meals in bug-infested areas.
“We’re talking about investigators finding vermin, food stored at temperatures over 50 degrees higher than what is considered safe, and a ‘pink, slimy substance’ in the washing machine,” Marler said.

The state Health Department also linked an outbreak of food poisoning to carrots served by Gate Gourmet on flights out of Honolulu April 22-24, 2004. But the investigation could not determine whether the carrots were contaminated by the caterer or elsewhere.

The Associated Press reports that the Food and Drug Administration says workers at one of four Mexican green onion farms inspected as the result of a 2003 hepatitis outbreak lived in windowless metal shacks with no showers. Shallow trenches ran from an area littered with soiled diapers and other human waste, downhill to onion fields and a packaging house, recently released documents show.
The FDA has stopped short of conclusively linking any one problem at the farms to the outbreak, which sickened at least 650 people and killed four who ate at the Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Beaver County.
From the article:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded green onions caused the outbreak because they were the common denominator for all those who got sick. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA traced the onions through Castellini to the Mexican farms that were inspected in December 2003, two months after the outbreak, Gordon said.
“I think people make a lot of assumptions about conditions at these farms and what those conditions might have led to,” said Castellini attorney Gary Becker. “But there’s no evidence the hepatitis A that contaminated these poor folks in Pennsylvania were ever found on a green onion.”
That’s a red herring, Gordon said.
It’s true that investigators never found a green onion that tested positive for hepatitis at the restaurant or on the farms.
But officials say it’s uncommon for tainted food samples to be found after an outbreak because they have been eaten or thrown away by the time the outbreak is discovered. And, months after the farms shut down for the season, there’s no way to test whether hepatitis A tainted the onions, said Bill Marler, the Seattle-based food litigation attorney who represents scores of victims.
Marler gave the FDA inspection reports to The Associated Press after his firm obtained them last month through the Freedom of Information Act.
FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said three of the four farms inspected in 2003 are still banned from exporting onions to the United States. Among other things, inspectors questioned worker training and hygiene; whether water supplies were tainted by human or animal waste; and whether water used to wash onions was clean and properly chlorinated.
The Dos M Sales De Mexico farm in LaRumorosa where the FDA found the squalid housing also couldn’t document that portable toilets were available to workers for two weeks during the 2003 growing season. Workers there fashioned showers out of wood and metal scraps, the FDA found. The farm was the only one inspected that didn’t offer child care, forcing workers to keep tabs on their children from a distance while they worked.
“They didn’t find the smoking gun. The conditions at that place were the worst, but hepatitis A could have spread at any of those locations,” Marler said.

Tampa Tribune writer Dave Nicholson has also chimed in on our lawsuit filed on behalf of Diana Walker, a Pinellas County woman who was hospitalized for 16 days due to complications from an E. coli 0157:H7 infection after a visit to the Florida Strawberry Festival.
As the Tampa Tribune reported, health officials say at least 30 people got seriously ill after they attended the Strawberry Festival, Florida State Fair or Central Florida Fair. Genetic testing linked at least 22 of those cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening complication of the virulent 0157:H7 strain of E. coli, to animals at Ag-Venture Farm Shows. The Plant City company supplied animals to all three events.
As I said in the article:

“We named the Strawberry Festival as a plaintiff in this lawsuit because it is likely that Ag-Venture Farms will not have enough insurance to fully compensate victims of this outbreak.“
“Diana has not yet been able to return to work, and is being monitored for future complications of infection. Her time off work, and constant need for medical monitoring, has created a financial hardship she would not otherwise have faced.”

 

ABC Action News has also reported on Marler Clark’s lawsuit filed on behalf of Diana Walters, who was infected with E. coli at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City earlier this year. From ABC’s article:

Diana Walters is now home from the hospital, but she told Action News reporter Don Germaise that she’s afraid she’ll never be the same.
“At one point, I knew for sure I was going to die,” she explained.
Diana’s speech is still slurred from her near-death experience six weeks ago. She spent 16 days in the hospital, including nine in intensive care after contracting the infection.

Continue Reading St. Petersburg woman is latest to file lawsuit over petting zoo infection

In a St. Petersburg Times article today that called Marler Clark “the Erin Brockovich of law firms handling food-borne and E. coli poisoning cases,” reporter Saundra Amrhein wrote about our client Diana Walters, a 48-year-old St. Petersburg resident who became ill with E. coli infection on March 18, six days after visiting an Ag-Venture Farms petting zoo at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
As my firm told the St. Petersburg Times, the petting zoo’s pockets alone aren’t deep enough to compensate all those sickened. We plan to file the suit on behalf of Walters today in Hillsborough County Circuit Court against Ag-Venture Farms and the Strawberry Festival, because we anticipate that Ag-Venture Farms alone won’t have enough insurance to compensate the victims of the outbreak.
Walters was hospitalized at St. Petersburg General Hospital for 16 days and underwent blood transfusions and a plasma exchange to fight a life-threatening complication of E. coli infection.
Statewide, 30 people were confirmed to have been infected, and 50 more are suspected cases, according to state Health Department spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges.
Marler Clark is also representing an Orlando resident who contracted an E. coli infection after attending the Central Florida State Fair in Orlando.

With media attention on product recalls due to potential contamination with such bacteria and viruses as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and hepatitis A and outbreaks of illnesses caused by these pathogens comes consumers’ need to know about foodborne pathogens. Marler Clark re-launched its website about foodborne illness, www.foodborneillness.com, in mid-April.
The site’s focus is to inform consumers and the media about food illness-related viruses and bacteria, such as the Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, Hepatitis A, Listeria, Norovirus, Salmonella, and Shigella. Since the site was re-designed and launched on April 14, 2005, over 15,500 unique visitors have used the site.
FoodborneIllness.com offers practical information about several forms of food poisoning, including the symptoms and risks associated with infection, how infections are diagnosed, and possible ways to prevent infection. The information on this site lends itself to the media, individuals, and the families of individuals who have been affected adversely by eating bad food. Hundreds of people use this Web site every day to learn more about foodborne illness – its origins, consequences, and most importantly, victims’ rights.
Foodborneillness.com complements other Marler Clark sites about foodborne bacteria and viruses, including About-Campylobacter.com, About-Ecoli.com, About-Hepatitis.com, About-Listeria.com, About-Norwalk.com, About-Salmonella.com, and About-Shigella.com.