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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The news does not get better for Topps

Staten Island Advance reported this morning:

Parents: Tainted hamburger sickened our daughter

A 12-year-old Great Kills girl has been hospitalized on Staten Island for E. coli poisoning and her parents are convinced she became sick after eating a helping of recalled hamburger meat. Brianna DiMartini, 12, is in the pediatric intensive care unit of Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze, more than a week after she had a hamburger made from Topps Meat Co. chopped meat, her parents told the Advance yesterday. Frank DiMartini, Brianna’s father, said the family bought a package of meat — part of the batch that was recalled — from the Waldbaum’s on Amboy Road in Eltingville.

Strangely, my first HUS, E. coli client’s name was Brianne Kiner. Her case eventually settled for $15,600,000 in 1993.

Cathleen F. Crowley of the Albany Times Union wrote this afternoon about the lawsuit we filed:

Watervliet family sues over tainted meat

The family of a Watervliet girl who became sick after eating a Topps hamburger filed a lawsuit today in Albany County Court. The suit holds Topps Meat Company liable for the E. coli infection the girl suffered and seeks unspecified damages. Topps Meat Co. has been identified as the manufacturer of frozen meet patties that infected at least 25 people nationally, and several in New York. The 8-year-old Watervliet girl was hospitalized for several days starting on Aug. 22, but is expected to recover fully.

Firm Recalls Meat, Faces Suit

Topps Meat Co. last week instituted a voluntarily recall of about 331,582 pounds of frozen ground beef products because they may be contaminated with E. coli, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.  E. coli is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. The ground beef was distributed to food service institutions in the New York metropolitan area and retail establishments nationwide. The USDA says an investigation into a cluster of illnesses in the Northeast led to a positive product sample in New York. News of the potential contamination sparked at least one law firm, Marler Clark L.L.P., P.S. in Seattle, to file a lawsuit against Topps in a New York court.  The firm says residents of New Jersey, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania were reportedly affected by the E. coli outbreak.

Marler Clark E. coli Attorneys File Lawsuit Against Topps

A lawsuit was filed today against Topps Meat Company, the meat producer whose ground beef products have been identified as the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, and who expanded a ground beef recall to include 21.7 million pounds of meat over the weekend. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Albany County, New York, residents Robert and Catherine McDonald and their young daughter, who became ill with an E. coli O157:H7 infection and was hospitalized after eating a hamburger made of Topps Meats ground beef on August 17th. The McDonald family is represented by the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, and the upstate New York law firm Underberg & Kessler.

According to the lawsuit, the McDonalds’ daughter fell ill with symptoms of an E. coli infection, including nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, chills, and muscle aches on August 20. On August 22, she was admitted to the hospital, where she provided a stool specimen that later returned positive for E. coli O157:H7. She was released from the hospital on August 24, and continues her recovery at home.

“We saw massive recalls and countless illnesses and deaths due to E. coli-contaminated ground beef in the 1990s,” said William Marler, attorney for the McDonald family. “Between 1993 and 2002, my clients were awarded $250 million in verdicts and settlements from the meat and restaurant industries. But in 2002, meat producers cleaned up their act. I touted the meat industry as a model for what an industry could do that was right to protect consumers.”

“Aside from sporadic cases, outbreaks traced back to meat products have been largely absent in the last five years,” Marler continued, noting that together with Underberg & Kessler Marler Clark represented another young Albany County child in a lawsuit against Topps two years ago. “2007 has been an anomaly in the meat industry, but now that outbreaks are happening, the industry needs to once again step up to the plate and compensate consumers for their injuries.”

More from USA Today – well, Tuesday:

Meat recalls point to possibility E. coli threat is growing

Huffman (American Meat Institute) cautions the rise could simply be a “random event.” But Bill Marler, the nation’s leading E. coli plaintiff’s attorney, says, “Something has changed, and it has not changed for the better.”

Last week’s recall of 21.7 million pounds of frozen hamburger because of potential E. coli contamination is bound to fuel concern that E. coli outbreaks may be on the rise in the nation’s meat industry for the first time this decade.

The ground beef recall by Topps Meat is second in size only to Hudson Foods’ 1997 recall of 25 million pounds of ground beef. And it comes just three months after a recall of 5.7 million pounds of ground beef tied to E. coli. The Topps recall has been linked to 27 reported illnesses, three confirmed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

The beef industry suffered its E. coli crisis in the early 1990s. But it tightened food-safety standards and reduced outbreaks so successfully that even critics held it up as a model of what industry could do. But the American Meat Institute (AMI) says it noticed a slight rise in positive E. coli tests by the government this summer and so met with industry leaders. “It’s caused us to pause,” says Randy Huffman, vice president of the AMI Foundation. “We’ve redoubled our efforts and focused on the things that work.”

The USDA sample-tests about 8,000 products a year for the deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain identified in the Topps’ recall. The rate of positive tests has shrunk about 73 percent since 2000 but trended up in 2007 compared with the past three years.

Huffman cautions the rise could simply be a “random event.” But Bill Marler, the nation’s leading E. coli plaintiff’s attorney, says, “Something has changed, and it has not changed for the better.”

The Topps recall is likely to focus attention on industry practices. Topps last Tuesday recalled 332,000 pounds of ground beef. The recall expanded Saturday to a full year of production – an unusually long time frame – after USDA inspectors found that the plant lacked appropriate controls regarding beef carried over from one day’s production to the next, says USDA spokeswoman Laura Reiser. Meat can be carried over from one day’s production to the next if separated into its own production lot for tracking, says Janet Riley, of the AMI. That helps companies trace when contamination may start and stop.

Topps spokeswoman Michele Williams says Topps had no information on the USDA’s inspection, begun last week. The USDA routinely had inspectors in the 80-employee Elizabeth, N.J., plant, as is common in the meat industry.

Most of the product has likely been consumed, but consumers should check freezers, officials say.

The product, mostly preformed patties, was distributed nationwide. The packages have the establishment number 9748 and sell-by-dates of Sept. 25, 2007 through Sept. 25, 2008. The plant has halted production, and the investigation continues.