Food Poisoining Lawyer

A few months ago I offered to give a book to each new person who subscribed to my blog up to 500 – I have 200 hardcover books left.  So, the next 200 new subscribers will get a free hardcover book.  Just subscribe here and email me your address at bmarler@marlerclark.com.

I given the book free to every member of Congress, the President and the heads of both the FDA and FSIS.  Dave Theno (former head of food safety at Jack in the Box) and I also gave 1,000 books to folks who attended last years IAFP conference.  I also gave away books at the several conferences I have spoken at in the last six months.

Here is a sample platter of the reviews on Poisoned that have come out in the last several months.

Poisoned Jeff Benedict.pngRoanoke Times:

“He also gives balanced treatment to the fast-food chain’s executives — men who could easily be vilified for the oversights that led to the tragedy — for their goal to set new industry standards for safety, to keep their company from shutting down in a storm of bad publicity, and for what seemed to be a genuine desire to help the families they inadvertently hurt, no matter how high the cost.”

“Benedict also touches on the ways the potentially deadly bacteria entered the food supply and how this outbreak, unlike others that preceded it, ended up improving standards for food handling in restaurants and processing plants.”

The News Advance:

“The story moves to Seattle, where hundreds of children get sick. Marler, a young lawyer frustrated with his career, starts learning about E. coli and amasses a list of clients.”

“He later helps one of those clients, Brianne Kiner, secure a $15 million settlement, the largest personal injury settlement at that time.”

“Benedict knows how to make a story both informative and important. “Poisoned” explains technical details as lawyers wrangle over legal fees and doctors run tests on micro-organisms, while also weaving in the emotions of individuals and families.”

The Richmond Times Dispatch:

“Anyone who has suffered from food poisoning knows the misery of the condition without going into detail. But few have found it life-threatening.”

The Day:

“A stunningly researched work, “Poisoned” reads as though Clarence Darrow had written “The Jungle” – and further proves Benedict is at the very top of those artistes whose narrative nonfiction burns like beach-happy, page-blasting thrillers.”

Poor Taste Magazine:

“After reading the first seven pages of your book, I was in tears, one hand covering my mouth, my heart racing as I learned the appalling story of six-year-old Lauren Rudolph, who succumbed to death just one week after consuming a dangerous, bacteria-filled hamburger. I was absolutely sucked in to your retelling of the outrageous, deadly E. Coli outbreak of the early ‘90s — a massive eruption of the most virulent strain of the bacteria that sickened over 600 people, killed four children, and nearly annihilated the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. Your simple but eloquent writing style kept me intrigued page after page, and as a result, Poisoned, with its revealing and heartbreaking stories of the victims of foodborne illnesses, took over my life for an entire week.”

Tri-State Livestock News:

“Benedict’s portrayal of those involved in the case of tainted hamburger traced to Jack in the Box restaurants is compelling, captivating and cautionary. As horrifying as the account is, Benedict tells it with compassion and class. So often lacking in what passes for news writing today, Benedict covers the story from every angle without passing judgment; he does it while presenting the humanness of those involved. From young patients to their parents, fry cooks to restaurant executives, physicians and scientists to the lawyers representing both sides, the reader rides shotgun in the fast-paced thriller that could pass for fiction. Only it’s not.”

 New York Times:

“Jeff Benedict manages to deliver a full literary experience of a medico-legal thriller in a work of nonfiction … Benedict delivers the story in a staccato, you-are-there fashion.” “There is only one supremely colorful character in the story that Mr. Benedict overlooks, and that is E. coli itself.”

“Poisoned” also received some extra exposure when another New York Times writer, Mark Bittman, who discussed “some stomach-churning facts about the E. coli outbreak,” with central character Bill Marler, the lawyer who sued Jack in the Box in the early 1990s.”

“The guy we have to thank for having our current level of protection against E. coli … is Bill Marler who made his bones in the Jack in the Box case.” 

San Diego Tribune:

“Benedict proves to be a master storyteller,” she wrote. “And his subtext is that because of what happened at Jack in the Box, the government changed its regulations, the company provided an all-encompassing plan that it shared with others in the industry to keep food products safe and people changed the way — and what — they eat.”

CS Monitor:

“Then Benedict moves on to the legal battle over the deaths, with a movie-like focus on the young attorney who represents one of the children. That lawyer, Bill Marler, breaks all the usual rules – viewing the child’s injuries, for instance, “more through the eyes of a parent than a lawyer.” But his unconventional approach proved successful and laid the groundwork for his current status as one of the country’s leading and most impassioned food safety lawyers.”

AP:

“Once the legal story gets rolling, however, ‘Poisoned’ becomes a fast-paced narrative and a cautionary tale about how public health policy, corporate practices and public relations, and lawyers’ chutzpah and frenzy for fees can converge in a place we all know well: the neighborhood hamburger joint,” Sullivan wrote. 

Bainbridge Island Review:

“Bainbridge Island resident Bill Marler remembers the outbreak well. After graduating from WSU, Marler was a third-year associate at the Seattle law firm of Keller Rohrbach. While the drama dominated the national media, Marler received a call from the mother of one of the afflicted children. A high-stakes legal battle ensued, wrought with cinematic-worthy drama.”

“The landmark $15 million settlement Marler won in a class action suit against the fast food chain propelled him into the spotlight. These days, Marler is considered the nation’s leading food safety lawyer.”

Kirkus Review:

“Just in time for BBQ season, an investigative journalist traces the path of a devastating outbreak of food-borne illness linked to hamburger meat.”

King County Bar Journal:

“Benedict has crafted Poisoned as a multi-part narrative, which takes us behind the scenes at JIB, into the slaughterhouses and hospitals, and through the legal machinations, bureaucracy, and skullduggery. Part of the story is the outbreak and the resulting, well-known legal case; the other side is the lesser-known – and still ongoing – changes in the food industry designed to clean up food processing and prevent future outbreaks. Most of these were initiated by Jack in the Box itself, which hired a leading food safety consultant as a full-time management employee to change the way – and what – Americans eat.”

“But there are two main characters: Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who represented many of the plaintiffs and made his name in the case, and 9-year-old Brianne Kiner of Seattle, his “biggest” client.”

Desert News:

Poisoned,” continues to grab headlines across the country.”

“With the recent E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France, Benedict’s nonfiction work is becoming a resource for people concerned about food poisoning issues.”

Grist:

“The result is a fast-paced, incredibly readable, even if at times a tad overly dramatized, story. (To be fair, it’s difficult to charge someone with overstating tragedy when it comes to the death of children.)”

Since “organicfarmer” posted this comment on Food Safety News last week, I have not been able to shake it from my head:

It’s really sad that farms and farmers are getting the brunt of this. I am sad these people died, but median age of 78…. give me a break. I my opinion there is no possible way to make all food safe for all people. I grow food, take extreme precautions to keep the farm as clean from pathogens as possible, but these bacteria are everywhere in the soil. Advances in science are a double edged sword. People have succumbed from so-called food poisons since the beginning of time. It’s probably good common sense to not eat raw foods if you’re old or have a compromised immune system. Now pathogenic bacteria have been found inside the cells of lettuce. No amount of washing will ‘clean’ it.

Perhaps because I spent most of the last week talking to families whose parents or spouses are fighting for their lives or have died too soon – because they ate a damn cantaloupe, or because I am about to drive out to see by 80 plus year old parents, I find “organicfamer”’s comments insensitive at best.  Certainly his attitude towards the elderly makes me wonder who purchases his farm products?  Frankly, I would take a pass.

Of course his response to me calling him out on his “shit happens” approach to life is to trot out how bad lawyers are and to say about me: “I resent him and all he stands for.”

Dear Mr. unnamed “organicfarmer”, this is what I stand for – people should not be sickened and/or die from eating cantaloupe.  Here is just a sample of people impacted and have the courage to stick up for themselves and other consumers by filing lawsuits – and using their names openly:

William Beach 2.jpegWilliam T. Beach consumed cantaloupe in early August. Mr. Beach subsequently fell ill and on approximately August 28th, was taken to the hospital by ambulance after his wife, Monette, found him collapsed on the living room floor, unable to speak or breathe regularly. Mr. Beach was discharged from the hospital two days later, but his condition worsened and he was again rushed to the hospital, where he died after a failed intubation procedure. The Oklahoma State Department of Health later contacted one of Mr. Beach’s six daughters to inform them that Mr. Beach had tested positive for Listeria and died from his infection.

Clarence Wells.jpegClarence Wells consumed cantaloupe on multiple occasions before becoming ill with symptoms of Listeria infection, including fluid retention, on August 23, 2011. By August 25, Mr. Wells had gained 9 pounds and had begun having difficulty breathing. He was taken to the emergency room, and was admitted to John’s Hopkins Medical Center later that day. On the morning of August 31, Mr. Wells’ condition deteriorated and his family was called to the hospital, where they found him unconscious. They never spoke to him, or saw him awake, again. Mr. Wells died the evening of August 31, 2011.

Gomez copy.jpgJuanita Gomez consumed cantaloupe purchased from a local grocery store in early August. By August 20, Mrs. Gomez became ill and developed a fever. When her symptoms progressed, she was taken to the hospital where her temperature measured 105.6 degrees F, her eyes became glassy, and she was unable to respond to simple questions. Tests later confirmed she had been infected with the same strain of Listeria linked to an ongoing outbreak that has been traced to defendant Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Mrs. Gomez was released from the hospital on August 24 and continues to recover at her home

CharlesPalmerPic.jpegCharles Palmer consumed the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe in mid-August. He had purchased one whole cantaloupe at the Wal-Mart store located on Razorback Road in Colorado Springs several days before. He fell ill with symptoms of listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria infection, including headache and fatigue, on August 30. The next morning, Mr. Palmer’s wife found him unresponsive and immediately rushed her husband to the hospital, where he has remained ever since. He has tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, the strain of Listeria involved in the cantaloupe outbreak.

Herbert Stevens and his wife purchased Jensen Farms-grown Rocky Ford cantaloupe from a Littleton grocery store in early August. On August 24, 84-year-old Mr. Stevens fell ill with symptoms of listeriosis and became incapacitated. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he tested positive for the same strain of Listeria that is involved in the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak. Mr. Stevens remained hospitalized until several days ago, when he was transferred to a long-term care facility. It is not clear if he will be able to return home.

And, “organicfamer” there are dozens of others I spoke to – the family of an 80 year old man who needlessly died in Nebraska and the 56 year old who died in Kansas, or the others who became ill and are struggling to recover or the ones still in ICU on life support who will soon raise the CDC death toll.

Mr. “organicfarmer,” there are a lot of people who hate me – mostly corporations who poison people – and, honestly, I really do not give a damn.  Mr. “organicfamer” you may hate me along with the Cargills, Doles, et al of the world – you, my friend are in fine company.

And, here is AP’s “For Listeria victims, sudden turns for the worse” that just crossed the wire.

It has been since October 2009 that we filed the Petition for an Interpretive Rule Declaring enterohemorrhagic Shiga Toxin-producing Serotypes of Escherichia coli, Including Non-O157 Serotypes, to be Adulterants Within the Meaning of 21 U.S.C. § 601(m)(1) with the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). Since I filed the Petition, I have also filed two supplements (See, First and Second) and provided the FSIS with my private test results.

When I filed the Petition, Mead, et. al., estimated that non-O157 STECs (like O26, O45, 0103, O111, O121, and O145) caused 36,000 illnesses, 1,000 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in America each year. Now, admittedly, not all, or most of these illnesses and deaths were caused by vectors overseen by FSIS, but clearly some have.  However, the CDC new estimates of illnesses caused by non-O157 STECs have risen to over 160,000 ill yearly. Hospitalizations and deaths are lower because many non-O157 STECs do not cause severe illness, but O26, O45, 0103, O111, O121, and O145 certainly do.

make-money-games.jpgNow according to Food Safety News, in the USDA’s budget request summary the department says funding will be directed towards addressing emerging foodborne pathogens, including non-O157 E. coli.

The plan calls for a $5.5 million increase to “expand regulatory sampling for key pathogens” and allow the agency to conduct an additional baseline study so that resources can be better focused.

“Motivated by increasing awareness that strains of non-O157:H7 shiga-toxin producing E. coli (non-O157 STECs) are causing human illnesses, the budget includes an increase of $0.7 million to support testing for non-O157 STECs,” the summary reads. “These pathogens cause more than three-quarters of the illnesses associated with the non-O157 STEC group.”

A past look at Obama’s FY 2010 and FY 2011 budget requests indicates that the FY 2012 request is the first time USDA’s request specifically stipulates funding for non-O157 STECs testing. 

It is great that they are budgeting for testing, but why not just use the $500,000 worth of test results I provided to the FSIS since 2008?

jpgAccording to CBC Television, about 67 percent of (presumably Canadian) chicken has harmful bacteria. “Marketplace” researchers tested grocery store chicken for harmful, drug-resistant bacteria and bought 100 samples of poultry from supermarket chains in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The samples included some of the “most familiar names in the poultry business,” says CBC News.

Lab analysis of the chicken found that two-thirds, or 67 percent, had bacteria. But the surprise wasn’t just the E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria found in the chicken. Rather it was that all of the bacteria were resistant to at least one antibiotic.

Even more frightening, the researchers found some of the bacteria had resistance to “six, seven, or even eight different types of antibiotics.”

In interviews with “Marketplace,” doctors and scientists said that the problem could be the result of chicken farmers giving too many antibiotics to their chickens, to make them stay healthy and speed up the growth process.

One wonders what a similar test would find in U.S. chickens? Sounds like I have might have a new project for 2011?