August 2004

As Jane Lerner of the Journal News reported today, Marler Clark has filed a lawsuit against BJ’s Wholesale Club on behalf of the parents of a Bergen County, N.J., boy who got sick from a strain of bacteria identical to the one that nearly killed a Rockland girl two years ago.

Three-year-old Owen Langan of Wyckoff developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after eating a hamburger made from ground beef that a family friend bought at the BJ’s in Paramus. Owen got sick in May 2002, around the same time that two Rockland girls became ill after eating ground beef purchased at the BJ’s in West Nyack.

One girl recovered at home. The other, age 6, developed severe complications of E. coli infection, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). She spent more than a month at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where she underwent blood transfusions and developed kidney failure, pancreatitis, hypertension, a blood-clotting disorder and seizures. She recovered, but continues to suffer medical complications as a result of eating the tainted hamburger. In April, her family reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with BJ’s to cover medical expenses.

The strain of bacteria that sickened Owen Langan was genetically identical to the strain that made the two Rockland girls sick. Owen spent 14 days in the hospital and developed kidney failure, which required treatment by dialysis.

Marler Clark has settled the claims of 49 individuals who were infected with Salmonella after eating at the Vernon Hills Chili’s Grill & Bar in late June and early July of 2003.

“We were far along in the process of preparing these cases for trial when settlement discussions finally seemed to turn serious,” said Marler Clark partner Denis Stearns. “We believed strongly in our case, and the importance of the point we were trying to make about food safety and corporate responsibility. This was a case my partners and I really wanted to take to trial. But when finally faced with the chance to not only fully compensate our clients, but to do so in a way that showed the clients that, we really did send a message with this one, that was something we had to recommend accepting.”

The Lake County Health Department’s outbreak investigation revealed that the Vernon Hills Chili’s had been under operation despite having a broken dish-machine and a lack of hot water for at least one day, and a lack of any water at all during most of the lunch-rush one day when infected food workers were preparing and serving food to patrons. The Lake County Health Department reported that 305 Chili’s patrons reported having symptoms of Salmonella infection that could be traced to Chili’s.

“In a way it is too bad that the amount of the settlement is confidential,” added Bill Marler. “I think that more than most settlements we have achieved in the past, this one would really have made the restaurant industry sit up and take notice.”

Fred Kiga, Gov. Gary Locke’s former revenue director and chief of staff, has been appointed to the University of Washington Board of Regents.

Another close Locke ally, Bill Marler of Bainbridge Island, was appointed by the governor to the Higher Education Coordinating Board. Marler, a lawyer and a key member of Locke’s “kitchen cabinet,” will leave his post as a regent of Washington State University. No successor on the WSU board was named.

I will succeed state economist Chang Mook Sohn, whose term was limited. I’ll serve a four-year term.