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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

After nearly 18 years doing Foodborne Illness Litigation, I need to write a Book

admitted-law-school-200X200.jpgAOL and multiple Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Andrew Schneider wrote a series of pieces this week about non-E. coli O157’s – yet another of my recent projects to pull food safety out of the dark ages. He also did a bit of a profile on yours truly, that like most of the dozens over the years tends to waiver between – “what a great guy” to “what an SOB.” Like most things the truth is somewhere in the middle. Also, after every profile comes the same comment from the writer (or other writers) along the lines – “you should write a book” or “I should write a book about you” – neither of which has happened – yet. So, in the interim, I took the time to write a Foreward for a food safety text that is coming to a Law School near you – sometime:

I admit that I agreed to pen the foreword for this book long before the several pounds of paper landed on my desk, where it sat for several weeks. It looked too much like the textbooks that I was so averse to opening in law school some twenty-five plus years ago.

Eventually I started thumbing through some pages. Before traveling to visit a food poison client or to speak at a food safety conference, I would grab a chunk of chapters for reading on the plane. Air travel today is not what it used to be. So I found sections like, “Business Risk Exclusion,” “Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety,” or and “Poultry Product Inspection Act” perfect for those long delays in Chicago, Beijing or Atlanta. Also, given the size of my ego, I spent some time looking for references to me. I was pleased to find at least one.

As I waded though less stimulating sections (not whole chapters), I questioned – why I had agreed to write the foreword, and why I had been asked in the first place.

It occurred to me that I have been around on the scene since the dawn of foodborne illness litigation as we have come to know it. True, we have suffered food borne illnesses (food manufacturers might argue that consumers are usually to blame-a.k.a. contributory fault) for as long as we have been eating food. But it was the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 1993 that forced the issue into the open and launched one young lawyer down a new path.

Perhaps it was the size of the outbreak – over 650 sickened, many for life, while four children died – that focused the legal community, the scientists, the media and the politicians on a severe problem that begged for a solution. It also helped that in 1993 new forms of media like the Internet and 24-hour cable news enabled people to become even more obsessed with food that, for some, is more pornographic than just an opportunity to gather calories.

By the time I had worked my way through most of this book, I felt as though I was touring the neighborhood where I grew up. A section on damages brought back memories of a little girl I represented early on in my career. She suffered a brain injury, lost her large intestine and had to have a kidney transplant after eating contaminated meat. The causation chapters reminded me of the first times I had to tell a mother that I could not legally determine what food item was responsible for her child’s death. I could go on and on. My point is that I have lived every one of the tragic scenarios described in this textbook. Or, I should say, my clients have lived them.

At this point I’ve represented well over tens of thousands of Americans poisoned by food. When I started, foodborne illness was not recognized as an area of expertise in the field of personal injury law. Now there’s a textbook to guide the future generation of lawyers on how to litigate cases. I guess that in itself is evidence of the gravity of the problem.

For those not acquainted with my neighborhood this book will help you navigate the roads and give suggestions of areas of town to avoid. For those who know the territory, you will see things that you never noticed before, things that help explain why certain roads dead-end and why some restaurants are better to avoid.

Happy reading.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    While I wouldn’t be interested in reading an entire law textbook on food safety, I would definitely be interested in reading a book that Bill writes about his 18 years of litigating food safety. I’m sure we would hear about heartache and losses as well as successes and happy endings. The icing on the cake would be to end the book with safe passage of S. 510. Could it happen? Well Bill, we all wait for you to be able to write that chapter!

  • And of course we know a published book immediately establishes its writer as an expert. Law Wholesale

  • Ouch

  • bookpeople of moscow

    write the book!or put together your posts.the human intrest features need to be made know to people which would help counter the woman who wrote food safety is harms small farmers.
    use your intake form to illustrate a case and go from there.plenty of time to either write on the plane or dictate for transcription. in reading your blog i’ve become more conscious of the problems in the food system. its scary and it can happen anywhere. i think you have a client who got food poisoning from a resturant in the same area as your office
    perhaps you can address the question is it that our food companies are too large to do a safe job or cutting cornors is the only way to turn a profit

  • rich schell

    I am one of the few lawyers who has a food in the food and publishing camps. I would say you should definitely write a book and base it around the stories you just mentioned. I’ve done book projects for Thomson West and Sourcebooks–the Sourcebooks that are geared for a regular reading audience are a lot more fun to write and to read.
    Good Luck,
    Rich Schell