BJ's sued over meat it sold


The parents of a Bergen County, N.J., boy who got sick from a strain of bacteria identical to the one that nearly killed a Rockland girl two years ago have filed a lawsuit against BJ's Wholesale Club, claiming the store sold tainted meat.

Three-year-old Owen Langan of Wyckoff developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a common and often deadly side effect of E. coli poisoning, several days after he ate a hamburger made from ground beef that a family friend bought at the BJ's in Paramus.

"The ground beef that BJ's manufactured and sold and that the plaintiffs purchased and consumed was adulterated, not fit for human consumption," Joseph and Lora Langan allege in legal papers filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

BJ's spokeswoman Amy Russ said the company would not discuss pending litigation.

The Massachusetts-based company has a strong food-safety program, she said, and takes all precautions to make sure the products it sells are safe.

"We take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of our food," she said. "Our food-safety and quality assurance standards meet or exceed federal, state and local regulations."

Owen Langan got sick in May 2002, around the same time that two Rockland girls became ill after eating ground beef purchased at the BJ's in West Nyack.

One girl recovered at home.

The other, who was 6, developed severe complications of E. coli infection, including hemolytic uremic syndrome. The condition, also called HUS, occurs when the bacteria attack blood cells and damage the liver.

The girl spent more than one month at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where she underwent blood transfusions and developed kidney failure, pancreatitis, hypertension, a blood-clotting disorder and seizures.

She recovered, but continues to suffer medical complications as a result of eating the tainted hamburger.

In April, her family reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with BJ's to cover medical expenses.

In court papers, Seattle attorney William Marler contends that the strain of bacteria that sickened Owen Langan was genetically identical to the strain that made the two Rockland girls sick.

Owen Langan spent 14 days in the hospital and developed kidney failure, which required treatment by dialysis. He recovered.

E. coli O157:H7 originates in the intestines of cows and is passed to humans through meat contaminated by cow feces.

The lawsuit filed by Owen's family alleges that BJ's failed to take proper precautions to make sure the meat sold by the nationwide chain was safe.

BJ's recalled some of its meat after an E. coli outbreak in 1999, according to Marler.

"Management and superior officers at BJ's had knowledge of the prior outbreak and the lack of protection against future contamination of its products," he wrote in the court papers.

The family also is seeking unspecified punitive damages.