This moring we got the news that the Federal Court will allow us to maintain a claim for punitive damages agaist Wright County Egg and its owner, Austin J. “Jack” DeCoster. For those you may have forgotten:
According to the CDC, from May 1 to November 30, 2010, approximately 1,939 Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses were reported that are likely to be associated with this outbreak. According to the FDA, on August 13, 2010, Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, conducted a nationwide voluntary recall of shell eggs. On August 18, 2010, Wright County Egg expanded its recall. On August 20, 2010, Hillandale Farms of Iowa conducted a nationwide voluntary recall of shell eggs. The total number of eggs recalled was 500,000,000. We filed multiple lawsuits in Iowa Federal Court on behalf of people who contracted Salmonella Enteritidis after eating these eggs.
Wright County Egg’s owner, Austin J. “Jack” DeCoster has a long history of wanton and willful disregard for the rights and safety of those who purchase and consume its egg products. Beginning in 1982, egg production facilities owned and operated by Austin J. DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, have been repeatedly linked to outbreaks of Salmonella illnesses, including Salmonella Enteritidis outbreaks. According to a report in the New York Times, these outbreaks include:
- In 1982, approximately 36 people were sickened, and one person died, in an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis traced to an egg production facility owned and operated by Mr. DeCoster.
- Eggs from the same DeCoster owned facility were suspected as the source of a simultaneous outbreak in Massachusetts that sickened 400 people.
- In 1987, nine people died and roughly 500 were sickened in an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis in New York City by eggs produced by farms owned and operated by Mr. DeCoster.
- In 1992, eggs from Mr. DeCoster’s farm in Maryland were the source of a Salmonella outbreak in Connecticut.
- Numerous state and local regulatory agencies—including New York and Maryland—have banned, quarantined or otherwise limited the sale of eggs from egg production facilities operated by Mr. DeCoster.
For the above reasons, and for the below findings by the FDA Inspection, we alleged that punitive damages were appropriate. Punitive damages are appropriate when the conduct of the defendant from which the claim arose constituted a willful and wanton disregard for the rights or safety of another. Iowa Code § 668A.1(1)(a). Willful and wanton disregard involves an intentional, unreasonable act “in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow.” Cawthorn v. Catholic Health Initiative Corp., 743 N.W.2d 525, 529 (Iowa 2007) (quoting Kiesau v. Bantz, 686 N.W.2d 164, 173 (Iowa 2004)).
Keep reading if you are not yet convinced:
The FDA form 483, which contains observations of its inspection, included the following:
· Chicken manure located in the manure pits below the egg laying operations was observed to be approximately 4 feet high to 8 feet high at the following locations: Layer 1 – House 1; Layer 3 – Houses 2, 7, 17, and 18. The outside access doors to the manure pits at these locations had been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.
· Un-baited, unsealed holes appearing to be rodent burrows located along the second floor baseboards were observed inside Layer 1 – Houses 1-9 and 11-13; Layer 2 – Houses 7 and 11; Layer 3 – Houses 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6; Layer 4 – House 3.
· Dark liquid which appeared to be manure was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses at the following locations: Layer 1 – Houses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, and 14; and Layer 3 – Houses 1, 8, 13, and 17.
· Standing water approximately 3 inches deep was observed at the southeast corner of the manure pit located inside Layer 1 – House 13.
· Un-caged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operations in contact with the egg laying birds at Layer 3 – Houses 9 and 16. The un-caged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area.
· Layer 3 – House 11, the house entrance door to access both House 11 and 12 was blocked with excessive amounts of manure in the manure pits.
· There were between 2 to 5 live mice observed inside the egg laying Houses 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 14.
· Live and dead flies too numerous to count were observed at the following locations inside the egg laying houses: Layer 1 – Houses 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, and 12; Layer 2 – Houses 7 and 11; Layer 3 – Houses 3, 4, 4, 5, 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, and 18. The live flies were on and around egg belts, feed, shell eggs and walkways in the different sections of each egg laying area. In addition, live and dead maggots too numerous to count were observed on the manure pit floor located in Layer 2 – House 7.
· [Failure to] document washing and disinfecting of your dead hen truck and manure equipment prior to moving from farm to farm.
· [Failure to] maintain records documenting the washing and disinfection of the trailers used for the movement of pullets to laying houses.
· Birds were observed roosting and flying, chicks heard chirping in the storage and milking facilities. In addition, nesting material was observed in the feed mill closed mixing system, ingredient storage and truck filling areas.
· Outdoor whole kernel corn grain bins 4 and 6 observed to have the topside doors/lids open to the environment and pigeons were observed entering and leaving these openings. Birds were also observed sitting/flying around and over the openings.
In addition, FDA investigators found Salmonella in numerous environmental samples collected at the facility, including:
· On 8/13/2010, an environmental sample was collected from Layer 2, house 7 manure swab from row 1 – left side.
· On 8/16/2010, an environmental sample was collected from Layer 2, house 11 at manure scraper blade from row 3 – right side.
· On 8/13/2010, an environmental sample was collected from Layer 4, house 3 at walkway 1 – right side and walkway 3 – right side.
· On 8/14/2010, a sample of meat and bone meal was collected from ingredient bin 7 located at your feed mill.
· On 8/17/2010, a sample of finished feed “Developer” pullet feed was collected from the feed mill.
· On 8/16/2010, an environmental sample was collected from the roof level covered ingredient bin chute 8; Second Floor ingredient bin cover 19 (ingredient bin 19 holds ground corn) located at your feed mill.
In addition to the FDA investigation, a Congressional investigation uncovered further evidence of Wright County Egg’s indifference to the conditions at its facility and risk of illness to consumers. Records presented at the Congressional hearings included environmental sample reports from the defendant’s facility in and around Galt Iowa from between 2008 and 2010 that indicated that Wright County Egg received 426 positive results for Salmonella, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella enteritidis. The testing included 66 positive samples for Salmonella on May 27, 2010 alone.
As I said, the Fox is now in the Hen House.