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Belle Plaine family struck by salmonella files lawsuit

David Shaffer, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

February 18, 2009

A Belle Plaine family whose two youngest children spent the Christmas season painfully sick with salmonella infections has sued the Georgia peanut processing company responsible for an outbreak that made more than 600 people ill across the country.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by David and Sarah Kirchner on behalf of their children, Michael, 3, and his baby sister Lilly, now 6 months, alleges negligence and seeks unspecified damages from the Peanut Corp. of America, whose plant in Blakely, Ga., has been identified by federal officials as the source of the salmonella linked to nine deaths, including three in Minnesota.

Both children suffered painful diarrhea during their illnesses, and Michael spent three days in the hospital, according to the suit.

His mother said he ate peanut butter crackers that later were among the 2,300 foods recalled because they contained peanut products from the plant.

Yet the illness struck his younger sister Lilly first, on Dec. 8. Later, doctors surmised that Michael was infected with salmonella before then, and passed it on to his sister through unknown contact before his symptoms appeared, said Sarah Kirchner. Both of her children have recovered, but they lost weight and tire easily, she added.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Georgia, is one of dozens of lawsuits filed against Peanut Corp. by people sickened from peanut products.

The company, which filed to liquidate in bankruptcy court last week, is facing a criminal investigation for shipping peanut products that tested positive for salmonella. Officials could not be reached to comment.

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who represents the Kirchners and 48 other plaintiffs in similar suits, said the company had at least $12 million in liability insurance, money that won't be available to other creditors in the bankruptcy. He said other food companies that used peanut products from Peanut Corp. also could be held liable for damages.

Sarah Kirchner said her daughter Lilly's fever reached 104 degrees before it broke. The infant spent much of December with painful diarrhea every five to 10 minutes. After each episode, the baby had to be given a bath and her bottom coated with a prescription, she said.

Michael, who got sick 11 days after his sister, had blood in his stool and was admitted to a children's hospital in Minneapolis. His pain was so bad that doctors ordered bone scans, an MRI and other diagnostic tests to find out why he was sick, she said. He was released two days before Christmas.

"The poor thing was on the couch just miserable,'' his mother said.

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