Class Action Lawsuit Filed Today in King County Superior Court Against Malt-O-Meal


Class action lawsuit filed today in King County Superior Court against Malt-O-Meal by families of two young victims

SEATTLE - The parents of 2-year-old Amelie Hinson and 17-month-old Kevin Keogh filed a class action lawsuit in Washington State Court today against Malt-O-Meal, the company who two months ago recalled an estimated two to three million pounds of toasted oat breakfast cereal that was potentially contaminated with an extremely rare strain of the Salmonella bacteria.

As Malt-O-Meal conceded in its own press release at the time, “Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail, or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.” It is believed that at least 17 people in Washington became infected with the rare Salmonella after eating cereal manufactured by Malt-O-Meal, and that these people will eventually become part of the class action lawsuit.

After eating the contaminated cereal during the Memorial Day weekend, Amelie Hinson became ill on June 1, with a high fever and ever-worsening diarrhea. Unaware that the Malt-O-Meal cereal was contaminated, the Hinsons continued to feed the cereal to Amelie as a snack. It was not until Malt-O-Meal announced the recall on June 5, that they realized that it was contaminated cereal that had made little Amelie so sick.

Amelie’s symptoms continued for over three weeks, and included severe stomach cramps, fever, and bloody diarrhea. At the same time that Amelie was so ill, the Hinsons were also in the process of moving into a new home and taking care of Amelie’s little brother, who was only three months old at the time. “It was a nightmare,” said Amelie’s mother, Melissa Hinson. “And even now, Amelie does not seem fully recovered.”

Like Amelie, Kevin Keogh’s symptoms were severe and seemed to never end. For over three weeks he suffered from fevers, painful cramping, vomiting, and almost constant diarrhea, much of which was grossly bloody. “It was simply unreal to think that a breakfast cereal could make a child so sick<” said Kevin’s mom, Marni Keogh.

Both Amelie and Kevin are presently home with their parents, and have mostly regained most of their strength. Still, both families wonder what the future will bring. “This particular strain of Salmonella is exceedingly rare,” said Denis Stearns, the children’s Seattle attorney. “We simply don’t know very much about it, and what the long-term risks might be. That is why this lawsuit is important. It provides these families with an opportunity to retain some of the world’s leading experts in bacteriology and infectious disease, and to get the answers that to-date Malt-O-Meal has made no apparent effort to provide.” Stearns added: “This lawsuit is not about money, and it’s not about getting even. This lawsuit is about answers, answers that these families deserve to receive, but haven’t gotten.”

“After learning of the recall, I telephoned Malt-O-Meal on at least two different occasions, trying to find out what we should do with the contaminated cereal, and whether this bacteria might be deadly,” said John Hinson, Amelie’s father. “No one ever called me back. And when I did finally get through to a living person, all they could tell me was to take the cereal back to the store for a refund.”

Bruce T. Clark, the Seattle attorney who represented Foodmaker in the lawsuits that resulted from the 1999 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, and who now also represents these two families, along with Stearns, stated: “You would think that, in this day and age, a corporation would understand that it is not enough to announce a recall, and then bury its head and hope the bad news goes away. These families have a right to know what happened, and what Malt-O-Meal is doing to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again.”

Stearns and Clark are joined as class-counsel by William D. Marler, the Seattle attorney who has represented many of the most severely injured children in E. coli outbreaks throughout the United States, including Brianne Kiner, whose case against Jack in the Box resolved for $15.6 million in 1995. Marler and Stearns recently represented several other children with serious injuries who drank contaminated Odwalla apple juice. The three attorneys were also recently retained to represent children who were injured in the Whitewater water park E. coli outbreak that occurred last month in Atlanta, Georgia.

Explaining why this lawsuit needed to be filed, Marler stated: “These families need answers: How did this rare strain of Salmonella get into breakfast cereal? Was it a freak accident, or was there something about the way this cereal was manufactured that created the risk of contamination? Is there something that parents should look for in the purchase of breakfast cereal to ensure its safety? Why did this particular strain of Salmonella prove to be so vicious in the illness that it caused in these little kids? Are there long-term health risks that might be associated with this rare Salmonella strain, risks that Malt-O-Meal isn’t telling anyone about? And if there are special risks, who is going to pay for the costs of medical-monitoring and testing that are necessary to make sure that these kids don’t someday take an unexpected turn for the worse?”

Anyone who was injured or became ill as a result of the consumption of Malt-O-Meal’s toasted oats cereal may contact Denis Stearns for more information regarding participation in this class action lawsuit.

More about the Malt-O-Meal cereal Salmonella outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.