The Washington Supreme Court today declined to review last year’s Court of Appeals decision upholding a $4.6 million award to 11 children injured in a 1998 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that was linked to undercooked taco meat served as part of a school lunch at Finley Elementary School. School District had sought the Supreme Court’s review arguing that school districts should not be held legally responsible if ill-prepared food sickens or kills a student. The Supreme Court refused to consider the argument.
Denis Stearns, one of the founding partners at Marler Clark, said:
“Washington State has a long history of holding school accountable when the children in their care are injured or killed. We believe that the Supreme Court’s decision today reaffirms the principle that, when it comes to preparing food for their students, a school’s foodservice operation should be held to the same high standard as any other restaurant licensed to operate in this State.”
“School-aged children are more vulnerable than most when it comes to exposure to contaminated food. Those who argue for lower-standards plainly do not understand what the problem is, or what is truly at stake. If anything, schools should be held to the highest standards. These are our children we are talking about.”
In its investigation of the outbreak, the Washington State Department of Health found that the Finley School under-cooked the taco meat. The Department further found the “differences in the preparation, handling, and transport of meat may have allowed for uneven cooking, uneven cooling, and uneven re-heating at the elementary school. This outbreak and the resulting investigation highlight the importance of regular inspections of institutional kitchens and the need for training of food service workers.”
In declining to accept review of the Court of Appeals decision, the Supreme Court foreclosed any further legal options for the school district and its insurers. Stearns said:
“While this day has been long in coming, it is a day that our clients are grateful for. They will get the compensation that the jury found them so deserving of, and can now get on with their lives.”