Berry Producer Linked to Hepatitis A Outbreak Sued Again in San Diego; Case Count Climbs to 99


SAN DIEGO—Marler Clark, Gordon & Holmes and Keeney, Waite & Stevens filed a second lawsuit against Oregon berry producer Townsend Farms today in San Diego County Superior Court. This is the second individual lawsuit filed on behalf of a hepatitis A outbreak victim from the San Diego area by the three law firms. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Geoff Soza, who alleges he fell ill with a hepatitis A infection after eating a frozen organic berry mix manufactured by Townsend Farms.

Sixty-four-year-old Geoff Soza had been eating “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” with pomegranate seeds for 6 months when he fell ill with a hepatitis A infection on a trip celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary. Far from home, in Yellowstone National Park, Mr. Soza was examined by paramedics who recommended he visit a medical center. Hours later, Mr. Soza’s wife, Rita, drove him to a hospital in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for an evaluation. Doctors originally believed he needed gallbladder surgery, but detected abnormal liver function in pre-operation lab work, so continued with further liver testing that ultimately revealed he was positive for hepatitis A. Mr. Soza continues to recover from his hepatitis A infection at home in California.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that as of June 12, 2013, at least 99 people with acute hepatitis A infections had been linked to the consumption of Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix.

“My clients—all of them—were eating this food because they thought it was healthy. None of them ever dreamed it would land them in hospitals or sick in bed for weeks at a time,” said attorney Bill Marler.

The CDC stated that the genotype of hepatitis A associated with the outbreak is 1B, a strain rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East. Hepatitis A genotype 1B was associated with outbreaks in Europe and Canada in 2013 and 2012, respectively. In both outbreak-situations, frozen berries or frozen berry blends with pomegranate seeds were implicated as the source of illness.

“It seems to me that Townsend Farms had some warning that it should be examining its suppliers’ food safety practices,” added Marler. “What we think of as healthy food can only be good for us if it is safe.”

BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has represented hundreds of people who contracted hepatitis A after eating contaminated food. The law firm has also represented thousands who received hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin injections to prevent infection and has recovered over $600 million for victims of not only hepatitis A, but E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

Gordon + Holmes' representative plaintiff cases have involved national foodborne illness outbreaks where hundreds of people were sickened from eating contaminated food, including Chi-Chi's v. Castellini (Ventura County Superior Court No. CIV236710), one of the largest hepatitis A outbreaks in a restaurant industry history; Sheetz v. Coronet (Blair County Civil Div No. 2004GN5396), largest salmonella outbreak in US restaurant industry history; and Foodmaker v. Vons (27CA 4th 473), at the time the largest E. coli outbreak in US history.

Mr. Waite, of the San Diego law firm Keeney Waite & Stevens, has represented hundreds of seriously injured foodborne illness victims since the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993.

For more information, contact Suzanne Schreck at sschreck@marlerclark.com or (206) 346-2141.