Nicolaus Arthur Brayton, the toddler son of Thomas and Lorraine Brayton of Woodcrest Road, died Aug. 1, 2000, at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. The boy, one of three Brayton children, died of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition triggered by an acute infection from the 0157:H7 strain of E. coli.
The parents enlisted the aid of Morristown attorney Bernard J. Recenello and the Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm to file a lawsuit this week in state Superior Court, Morristown, against Karl Ehmer Quality Meats on North Beverwyck Road in Lake Hiawatha. Marler Clark in 1993 settled a client’s case for $15.6 million over a Jack in the Box E. coli epidemic and has represented numerous other clients suing over tainted juices and foods.
The state Department of Health concluded that Nicolaus’ stool culture results showed he was infected with the E. coli strain. On July 22 — 10 days before the boy’s death — the Braytons had barbecued frozen hamburgers they purchased from Ehmer Meats. Health officials linked Nicolaus’ death to the hamburger after conducting tests on remaining frozen patties in the Brayton home. Those patties tested positive with the same E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria, according to Dennis McGowan, spokesman for the state Department of Health.
Calls to the butcher shop, part of an East Coast chain of some 30, independently owned stores from Connecticut to Florida, were referred to attorney Steven M. Passman. His office referred calls to Selective Insurance Co., from which representative Sharon Cooper said no comment could be made on pending litigation.
McGowan said the butcher shop fully cooperated with the investigation and passed sanitary inspections by local health officials. Nicolaus’ exposure to E. coli was determined to be an "isolated incident" connected to Ehmer Meats, but the shop voluntarily recalled its ground beef products upon learning that the patties it sold to the Braytons were positive for E. coli, McGowan said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture was unsuccessful in tracing the origin of the beef supplied to Ehmer and sold to the Braytons, said department spokeswoman Beth Gaston.
A day after the family barbecue, the Braytons and their three children had diarrhea and nausea, but Nicolaus’ symptoms were the most severe. He was taken to St. Barnabas July 29, where by Aug. 1 he was in acute renal failure. CAT scans revealed he suffered severe intra-cranial bleeding and cerebral swelling, the lawsuit stated. The hospital determined there was nothing more that could be done medically for the child and he was removed from life support systems and pronounced dead around 4 a.m. Aug. 1.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for Nicolaus’ pain and suffering and for his family’s suffering, emotional distress and loss of the child’s future companionship and financial contributions.
Between January and July 31, there have been 13 reported cases of human exposure to E. coli bacteria, but no deaths. Last year, according to the state Department of Health, there were 116 cases and one death - Nicolaus Brayton’s.