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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Oklahoma E. coli O111 Victims to Share $4 Million, not $3 Million as Insurers Argued

Screen shot 2010-10-29 at 11.37.14 AM.pngIn a blow to Republic Underwriters and Southern Insurance Companies (and to insurers everywhere), the Federal Magistrate in Oklahoma sided with the 341 victims of the largest E. coli O111 outbreak in United States history. The court ruled that the 341 victims may share in the insurance proceeds of $4,000,000 as opposed to the $3,000,000 argued by the insurance companies. The full reasoning of the Opinion and Order can be downloaded here.  We now need to get the health insurers to waive any rights that they might have to reimbursement.

Given that the is not enough money to fairly compensate all of the victims, we have waived all fees and costs and have proceeded to prosecute the case pro bono. As readers may recall, several Months ago, the Oklahoma Department of Health released a comprehensive report that determined that the:

Source of Outbreak: Country Cottage Restaurant, Locust Grove, OK

Outbreak Organism: E. coli 0111:NM

Vehicle of Contamination: Unknown

Method of Spread: Foodborne transmission

Confirmed Outbreak Period: Aug. 15-24, 2008

Cases: 341

Hospitalizations: 70

Deaths: 1

The report detailed the agency’s extensive epidemiological investigation into the outbreak that included laboratory testing, personal interviews, and an in-depth environmental investigation. While the source of the outbreak – the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, OK, – was quickly identified, the vehicle for contamination was never found.

Laboratory analyses of specimens provided by those who became sick allowed the OSDH and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to pinpoint E. coli 0111 as the bacterial organism responsible for persons’ illnesses. However, microbiological testing of food products and food preparation and serving surfaces in the restaurant, as well as testing symptomatic restaurant employees, samples from a private water well located on the property, water filters, and the Locust Grove municipal water supply, found no E. coli 0111. The OSDH released multiple situational updates during the investigation that reported no E. coli 0111 had been identified in its extensive testing process. Because the disease-causing organism was not found, the OSDH was unable to eliminate from consideration any of the potential vehicles for transmission of the bacteria into the restaurant, including well water. Even so, analysis of data collected during the investigation suggests there was ongoing foodborne transmission of E. coli O111 to restaurant customers from Aug. 15-24, 2008.