Marler Clark Files First Lawsuit in Caramel Apple Listeria Outbreak


81-year-old California Woman’s Death Linked to Multi-State Listeria Outbreak that has Sickened 35 and Killed Five

Attorney Bill Marler of Seattle’s Marler Clark, the nation’s only law firm dedicated to representing victims of foodborne illness, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Safeway Inc., in the Superior Court of Santa Cruz on behalf of James Raymond Frey, 87, and the estate of his deceased wife, Shirlee Jean Frey, 81, who died tragically on December 2, 2014 after consuming a Listeria-tainted caramel apple purchased at the Safeway in Felton, California. The case number is CISCV180721. Local co-counsel is Harry Stern of Rains Lucia Stern in San Francisco.

The events leading up to Mrs. Frey’s death began just before Halloween 2014, when she went to the Safeway store in Felton, California, and purchased, among other things, a commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apple. Shortly after consuming the caramel apple later in the week, Mrs. Frey suddenly began to feel ill.

On November 6, due to weakness and instability related to her illness, Mrs. Frey fell and hit her head. She was rushed to the emergency room, where the decision was made to airlift Mrs. Frey to Stanford Hospital for surgery on what was thought to be a brain-bleed. On November 14th, after the surgery, Mrs. Frey was deemed well enough to be discharged and admitted for rehabilitative care. She appeared to be improving over the next ten days, however, her condition soon started to deteriorate.

On Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Frey could not be awakened and was immediately readmitted to care at Stanford Hospital. On December 2, the doctors at Stanford Hospital informed the family that Mrs. Frey was suffering from a listeria infection—listeriosis (later confirmed by health department investigators). Already shocked and devastated, the family was informed later that day that Mrs. Frey had died as a result of the infection.

“My deepest sympathies go out to the Frey family,” said Marler. “Listeria is a brutal illness, but it is completely preventable. It is sickening and shocking when outbreaks like this one occur as it means the most basic precautions were not taken.”

CDC collaborated with public health officials in several states and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis). Joint investigation efforts indicated that commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples made from Bidart Bros. apples were the likely source of this outbreak.

Public health investigators used the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that were part of this outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC. DNA “fingerprinting” is performed on Listeria bacteria isolated from ill people using techniques called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS).

The 35 ill people included in this outbreak investigation were reported from 12 states: Arizona (5), California (3), Colorado (1), Minnesota (4), Missouri (5), Nevada (1), New Mexico (6), North Carolina (1), Texas (4), Utah (1), Washington (1), and Wisconsin (3). Illness onset dates ranged from October 17, 2014, to January 6, 2015. Eleven illnesses were associated with a pregnancy (occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant). One fetal loss was reported. Among people whose illnesses were not associated with a pregnancy, ages ranged from 7 to 92 years, with a median age of 62 years, and 33% were female. Three invasive illnesses (meningitis) occurred among otherwise healthy children aged 5–15 years. Thirty-four people were hospitalized, and listeriosis contributed to at least three of the seven deaths reported.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) identified two cases of listeriosis in Canada with the same PFGE patterns as those seen in the U.S. outbreak. More detailed testing using WGS showed that the isolate from only one of the two cases was genetically related to the U.S. outbreak. That person reported eating a caramel apple.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. Approximately 2,500 cases of listeriosis are estimated to occur in the U.S. each year. About 200 in every 1,000 cases result in death.

About Marler Clark

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria outbreaks. The Listeria lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Listeria lawyers have litigated Listeria cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, cheese, celery and milk.

If you or a family member became ill with a Listeria infection after consuming contaminated food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, you can contact the Marler Clark attorneys for a free case evaluation. Marler Clark is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria and other foodborne illnesses, and is the only firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation.

You can fill out the contact form or call toll-free at 866-770-2032. There is no cost to you.

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