December 2005

E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically the “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties sold under various brand and trade names, are by no means a new phenomenon.
In October 2003, 13 residents of a California retirement center were sickened and 2 died after eating E. coli-contaminated “pre-washed” spinach.
In September 2003, nearly 40 patrons of a California restaurant chain became ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, “pre-washed” lettuce.
In July 2002, over 50 young women were stricken with E. coli at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized, and 1 with life-long kidney damage.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that of 225 food-poisoning outbreaks from 1990 to 1998, nearly 20 percent (55 outbreaks) were linked to fresh fruits, vegetables or salads.

Continue Reading Lettuce and E. coli

As Jason Cato of the Tribune-Review reported today, checks should start arriving in a few weeks for nearly 5,000 people who claimed part of an $800,000 lawsuit settlement against Chi-Chi’s following a hepatitis A outbreak two years ago at a restaurant in Beaver County.
From the article:

Though nearly 10,000 people got shots to help stave off the illness following the fall 2003 incident involving tainted green onions at the Chi-Chi’s in the Beaver Valley Mall, only 4,931 returned the necessary forms by the Oct. 24 deadline, said Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who handled the class action lawsuit. Each of those people will receive a check for $162.23.
Marler, who specializes in food-poison cases, said he thinks the settlement is fair — especially since it involved people who simply got shots and did not necessarily contract the disease.
“It’s in line with similar settlements we’ve made in the past,” he said.
Some 660 people developed hepatitis A after eating at the Center Township Chi-Chi’s in October or November 2003. Four people died.
About 550 lawsuits were filed against the restaurant chain by those people and their families. Marler handled 75 of those cases and has settled them all, including a settlement of $6.25 million for Richard Miller, of Beaver, who needed a liver transplant after contracting hepatitis A.
The company has paid more than $40 million to settle cases.
Marler said fewer than 10 lawsuits remain outstanding, including a case for one of the deceased. He expects those to be settled soon and credits the speedy settlements in large part on the fact that Chi-Chi’s had already filed for bankruptcy when the outbreak occurred.
“I think Chi-Chi’s and their insurance companies have done a remarkable job at getting this done,” Marler said. “It doesn’t seem short in real people’s time, but in a legal sense it’s gone fairly quickly.”

Don Hamilton, a Columbian staff writer, reported today that our firm will be representing two families victimized by the recent E. coli outbreak with an eye toward suing Dee Creek Farm, the farm that provided the raw milk that sickened their children.
Eighteen people, 15 of them children ages 1 to 13, have been sickened in the outbreak, and all 18 consumed raw milk from Dee Creek Farm near Woodland. Two children remain hospitalized but their conditions are improving.
Clark County and state health officials have been testing and cross-testing milk samples and E. coli victims to determine the scientific link between the milk and the bacteria.
Tests so far confirm seven have the 0157:H7 E. coli strain, which is safe for cows but dangerous in people. The four completed tests all show an identical DNA fingerprint, indicating a common source of infection, said Marni Storey, Clark County public health manager.
From the article:

Drew Falkenstein, an associate with Marler Clark, said two families, each with a child suffering from exposure to E. coli, have retained the firm to represent them in any possible claims that may arise from the outbreak. He said the firm is still investigating the case, but litigation is possible.
“I suspect we’ll file a lawsuit against the farm,” he said. “I think that’s where this is headed.”
The law firm is also looking into suing the state of Washington for not doing more to protect consumers of the farm’s raw milk. The farm was operating without a license, as required under state law. In August, the state ordered Dee Creek Farm’s owners, Anita and Michael Puckett, to stop distributing the raw milk. The Pucketts refused but said they were preparing to apply for a license.
“Is there any blame the state must bear in this? It’s a possibility,” Falkenstein said, “and we’ll delve into all areas of inquiry before we decide on any course of action.”
Falkenstein, a Longview native, said E. coli poisoning can cause severe long-term health problems leading to kidney dialysis and kidney transplants later in life. He said legal action could help ensure the medical well-being over the lifetimes of the victims.

As the Associated Press reported today, nearly 5,000 people who had to get shots to ward off hepatitis A during a food-poisoning outbreak at a western Pennsylvania Chi-Chi’s restaurant two years ago will be mailed checks for $162.23 each next month. A federal judge in Delaware overseeing Chi-Chi’s bankruptcy signed off on the class-action settlement last week.
From the article:

Chi-Chi’s paid $800,000 to those who had to get shots. Nearly 9,500 people got the shots, but only 4,931 filed claims by the court-imposed deadline of Oct. 24. The money was equally divided among those who filed claims, said Bill Marler, the Seattle attorney who sued on their behalf.
The settlement compensates those whom state health officials urged to get shots because they ate at the restaurant during the outbreak in the fall of 2003, or because they were closely related to someone who got sick.
All those given shots were mailed claim forms in August; the proposed settlement was also advertised in various Pennsylvania newspapers.
More than 600 people were sickened, and four eventually died, from eating at the Chi-Chi’s in the Beaver Valley Mall.
The class-action settlement doesn’t cover those who sued for other medical damages or death. More than 550 people and the families of the four who died also filed claims for out-of-pocket medical expenses and/or for more serious damages.

Barbara LaBoe of The Daily News reported today that both the state and an unlicensed Woodland dairy may be sued on behalf of two children sick with E. coli.
From the article:

Parents of two of the children sickened after drinking unpasteurized milk from Dee Creek Farm asked Seattle lawyer Bill Marler to look into their case, he said Sunday. Marler is an E. coli expert, who worked on both the Jack in the Box and Odwalla juice E. coli cases.
Twenty-one people who drank unpasteurized, or raw, milk from Dee Creek developed E. coli symptoms. Five Clark County children were hospitalized and two remain in critical condition. Preliminary state tests linked the DNA of four of the E. coli cases Saturday, further bolstering officials’ belief the bacteria came from Dee Creek milk.

Continue Reading Families may sue Dee Creek over E. coli

On November 30, Jane Zhang of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the recent influx of trouble that has come from Americans eating their vegetables:

More Americans are eating their vegetables. But the healthy trend comes with a risk: Illnesses traced to fresh produce are on the rise.
Fruits and vegetables are now responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry or eggs. Overall, produce accounts for 12 percent of food-borne illnesses and 6 percent of the outbreaks, up from 1 percent of the illnesses and 0.7 percent of outbreaks in the 1970s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, meat-related E. coli infections have been on the decline.
Several factors are responsible: the centralization of produce distribution, a rise in produce imports, as well as the growing popularity of pre-chopped fruits and vegetables. Both the government and the industry have identified five products that are particularly problematic: tomatoes, melons (especially cantaloupes), lettuce, sprouts and green onions.

Continue Reading When eating your vegetables makes you sick