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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The water you drink – A cautionary E. coli tale worth $72,000,000

drinking-water-wakerton.jpgToday the Ontario government announced that it has paid out more than $72,000,000 ($74,457,478.90 US) in compensation to victims of Walkerton’s tainted water tragedy and their families.

In May 2000, thousands became ill after E. coli from a nearby farm contaminated the water supply in the small community in southwestern Ontario. Stan Koebel, the former manager of Walkerton’s utilities commission, was jailed for one year for his role in the tragedy, while his foreman brother, Frank, was sentenced to nine months of house arrest.

According to the Walkerton Report, the overall estimated number of cases associated with the outbreak was over 2300 people. Of the 1346 reported cases, 1304 were considered to be primary (exposed to Walkerton municipal water), 39 were secondary (exposed to a primary case and not to Walkerton municipal water) and 3 were unclassified. Sixty-five patients were admitted to hospital and of these 27 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Six people died as a result of the outbreak. Of the 2,300 people who were sickened, 36 per cent developed post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A total of 10,189 claims were made, with 9,275 qualifying for compensation (approximately $7,762.80 CA per person).

In the United States, I would guarantee you that the settlements or verdicts would far exceed the sum paid out by the Ontario government (although they do have universial health coverage). HUS cases resolve generally between $750,000 for milder cases to over $20,000,000 for the most severe. IBS cases can also garner results in the high six to low seven figures depending on the severity of the long-term complications. Less severe E. coli case can range from a low of $25,000 to a high of $500,000, again, depending on the severity of the acute symptoms.  I know this because in the 18 years since the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak we have secured over $500,000,000 in verdicts and settlements on behalf of victims of bacterial contamination.

Water supplies in the U.S., be warned.

  • Bob Wills

    A recent public radio report noted that some municipalities in Wisconsin have chosen not to treat their drinking water. Your report should be sent to them as a warning. Even if one believes that a majority of citizens in those community should be able to choose for the whole community whether or not to treat water, what about those of us who are just passing through. There are no signs on the highways that say, “this town has untreated water, drink at your own risk”.