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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Salmonella Saintpaul Lawsuit Filed Against Wal-Mart

The first lawsuit stemming from the Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 1319 people, hospitalized 255 and caused the death of 2 in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada was filed today in the District Court of Montezuma County, Colorado. The complaint was filed on behalf of Delores, Colorado resident Brian Grubbs against Wal-Mart and an unknown supplier, referred to as “John Doe”.

The lawsuit states that the Grubbs family purchased raw jalapeno peppers from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Cortez, Colorado in late June, and that Mr. Grubbs ate them over the next week. He fell ill on July 3, experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and diarrhea. Over the next several days, Mr. Grubbs’ condition continued to worsen; he lost a great deal of weight, was severely dehydrated, and could not walk without assistance. His wife drove him to the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, New Mexico, where he was treated for dehydration and decreased kidney and liver functions. Samples taken at the time later revealed that he was positive for salmonella Saintpaul.

“Consumers believe that retailers like Wal-Mart know the quality and safety of products they sell,” said William Marler, the Grubbs’ attorney. “Retailers benefit from that trust, and must be held accountable for the products they sell.”

The Grubbs family still possessed some of the peppers that Mr. Grubbs had consumed, and provided them to authorities. Tests revealed that the peppers were tainted with salmonella Saintpaul, and provided one of the first reported physical links in the three-month-long search for the source of the outbreak.

Salmonellosis illnesses from the Saintpaul strain began showing up in Texas and New Mexico in late April, and in early June the CDC linked those illnesses to raw tomatoes and issued consumer warnings. Advisories were widened to include foods commonly consumed with tomatoes, such as peppers, cilantro, and onions, then narrowed to raw jalapeno and serrano peppers. On July 30, the FDA confirmed the presence of salmonella Saintpaul at a farm in Mexico, both in irrigation water and on produce. The investigation is continuing. (A full timeline of the outbreak can be found here.)

Salmonella is a bacterium that causes one of the most common intestinal illnesses in the US: salmonellosis infection. It can be present in uncooked or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or unpasturized dairy products, as well as other foods contaminated during harvest, production, or packaging. Symptoms can begin 6 to 72 hours from consumption, and include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and/or vomiting. In most victims, symptoms will lessen over a period of 10 days to 2 weeks, although it may take months for body functions to return to normal. In others, the infection can lead to more severe illnesses such as typhoid fever and bacteremia. There are many strains of the bacterium; salmonella Saintpaul is a fairly common serotype, but the specific subtype, or fingerprint, associated with this outbreak is very rare.