October 2003

From a recent article in the San Mateo County Times:

The families of several local E. coli sufferers have contacted a Seattle-based lawyer who has collected tens of millions of dollars in settlements in food-poisoning cases. William Marler, a personal-injury attorney who has represented hundreds of E. coli, salmonella and botulism victims, said Tuesday several County families have called his office to inquire about filing lawsuits.

As the outbreak of E. coli in the Sequoias-Portola Valley retirement community went into its 19th day Tuesday, one of two sufferers who had remained hospitalized at Stanford Medical Center was released.

And the family of Alice McWalter — the 85-year-old resident who died from kidney failure related to E. coli on Sunday — began preparing for a memorial service at her beloved Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley.

As the San Mateo County Times reported, health officials are still tracking the source of the outbreak, which sickened dozens of residents and staff members at the retirement center since it was reported Oct. 9. County Health Officer Scott Morrow said Monday that “food and food handlers” were being closely scrutinized, and said a report on the cause of the outbreak should be completed within a week.

I’ve been reappointed to a second term with the Washington State University Board of Regents, which I currently serve as president. I was first appointed to the WSU Board of Regents in 1998. I served as a member of the Pullman City Council while attending WSU, as the youngest and first student ever elected to the office. Looking forward to another six years.

Marler Clark and Keeney, Waite & Stevens filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Christopher and Karie Galindo, and their daughter, Kayce, who is suffering from a severe E. coli O157:H7 infection after consuming contaminated lettuce at Pat & Oscar’s on September 28. The lawsuit was filed against Gold Coast Produce and Family Tree Produce in San Diego County Superior Court.
As Marler Clark stated in a recent press release:

“This is the second E. coli outbreak linked to contaminated lettuce in two years,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “It is outrageous that produce suppliers are not taking proper precautions to keep our food supply safe. Something must be done to protect our children from being served food laced with deadly pathogens.”

Approximately forty people, including Kayce Galindo, became ill with E. coli infections in late September and early October after consuming lettuce at different Pat & Oscar’s restaurants. Several school children became ill after consuming contaminated lettuce served in their school lunches. Marler Clark and Keeney, Waite, & Stevens have been retained by over a dozen victims.
Kayce, a sixteen-year-old student and varsity volleyball player at Carlsbad High School, began experiencing severe abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea two days after she ate a salad at Pat & Oscar’s, and was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in San Diego for three days, then was discharged to recuperate. Kayce has again been hospitalized, after developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS, a life-threatening complication of E. coli infections that often leads to kidney failure.

“This latest outbreak is the tenth E. coli outbreak in the last ten years that has been traced to contaminated lettuce,” said Marler, whose firm represents several victims of a similar outbreak last summer that resulted in the illnesses of over fifty campers at a dance camp at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. “The lettuce packaging boasted that the product sold to Pat & Oscars and the School Districts was ‘three-times pre-washed.’ The problem is, if the produce or irrigation water came into contact with cattle or cattle feces during cultivation and harvest, washing would not have prevented any illnesses. The bacteria would have been inside the lettuce, not on the surface.”

As I said in the press release, we filed this lawsuit based on California’s Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Laws and the California Health and Safety Code. Under these laws, a manufacturer of food is “strictly liable” for injuries caused by food that was not “reasonably safe.” A food product is not reasonably safe if it does not meet a consumer’s reasonable expectations of safety. Because consumers reasonably expect the food they consume to be free of pathogens, the manufacturer of any food item that is contaminated with a pathogen, such as E. coli O157:H7 is liable to those who were harmed by consuming the product.

“Typically, when people think about E. coli O157:H7, they think, ‘hamburger,'” Marler concluded. “Consumers understand now that E. coli comes from cattle feces, and are especially careful when cooking ground beef. What they don’t realize is that if farmers aren’t careful, cattle feces can also contaminate fresh produce that doesn’t get cooked to a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria, or doesn’t get cooked at all – as in the case of lettuce.”

Todd Frankel of the Post-Dispatch called dining with me an unusual experience in his recent article “Seattle attorney is representing 5 of 6 victims in E. coli outbreak,” which refers to the recent Habaneros E. coli Outbreak in Missouri. As Frankel reported:

“I haven’t eaten a hamburger since Jack in the Box,” Marler said, referring to the massive 1993 E. coli outbreak on the West Coast that served as his first experience with his narrow specialty.
“The level of trust we have toward our food supply, in my view, is unwarranted,” Marler said, taking another bite of his salad.

As well as food, Frankel and I discussed the recent Missouri E. coli outbreak. As I told Frankel, I was in St. Louis two weeks after the Habaneros outbreak was first publicized. I’ve been contacted by two of the victims’ families.

“He doesn’t go trolling for business, he said. He’s been involved in several high-profile outbreaks: from salmonella in fruit juices to E. coli at an Atlanta water park.
Marler said he hopes to avoid filing suit in the Habaneros case. He has been talking with the restaurant’s insurance carrier to work out payment for the victims’ medical bills. He estimated that the most seriously injured, Patty Timko, would have bills in excess of $250,000.

In his recent article “E. coli Strikes Like Lightning,” Todd C. Frankel of the Post-Dispatch recently reported on several of the e. coli victims who ate at Habaneros at the St. Clair Square mall.
Frankel reported on Stan Pawlow (age 7) who spent six days in the hospital and still asks if his food is tainted, Kate Reed (age 24) who was hospitalized with what she referred to as the worst pain in her life, Brett Hellinga (age 29) and Jamie Eastwood (age 25) whose severe symptoms forced them both to go to the emergency room, and Patty Timko (age 20) who suffered kidney failure and severe seizures when the e. coli poisoning traveled to her bloodstream.
From Frankel’s Post-Dispatch article:

Her back arched off the hospital bed. Her jaw slammed shut. Her face, covered with light freckles around the nose, turned deathly blue.
A seizure gripped Patty Timko.
This seizure was unlike the others in recent days, when she went rigid, as if holding herself back from flying out of bed. This one was worse, her family said later. And it wasn’t letting go.
Her father struggled to hold on to Timko’s right leg. Her mother grabbed her daughter’s left hand. She wanted to sing to her, to calm her. Phyllis Timko is a music teacher, and the earlier seizures were made somehow easier by songs like “All Night, All Day, Angels Watching Over Me” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” But all she could do now was urge her daughter to breathe.

E. coli 0157:H7 is a sickness with no cure.

“I’d rather roll the dice with salmonella or campylobacter than E. coli 0157:H7,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in litigation tied to food-borne illness.
Each year, the E. coli strain leads to 73,000 cases, 2,100 hospitalizations and about 60 deaths. It causes severe bloody diarrhea and intense abdominal cramping; some female victims compare the pain to childbirth. In the worst cases, the toxins spill from the intestines into the bloodstream, causing hemolytic uremic syndrome. That was what hit Patty Timko so hard.
It is a sickness with no cure. Antibiotics are useless. Doctors are left only to wait for the pathogen to run its course.

In its story Fewer students of color at WSU, the Spokesman Review reported today that while enrollment is up at Washington State University, the number of African-American students on campus is down.
The African-American student population dropped to close to 13 percent this fall. Although the drop accounts for only 67 fewer students than last year, the decline has grabbed the attention of WSU’s Board of Regents, for which I’ve served since 1998. As the Spokesman Review reports:
Regent Ken Alhadeff, a Seattle-area business leader, said the school needs a pipeline for students of color.

“We must look at everything we can do individually and collectively,” he told fellow board members.
Regent President Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer, echoed his concerns. “I’m interested in seeing what went wrong and why,” he said.

WSU’s executive director of enrollment services, Janet Danley, isn’t wasting any time trying to find ways to get those numbers up. Her plans include moving multicultural recruiters who have worked off-site this year to her own office to work alongside the general student recruiters. She also plants to talk to African-American students already on campus, as well as those who applied and received scholarships but decided not to attend.