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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Back from the Brink: Families of children who contracted E. coli count blessings – and bills

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.”