SAN DIEGO — Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally recognized for its successful representation of E. coli victims, and Keeney, Waite & Stevens, a respected San Diego law firm, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Christopher and Karie Galindo, and their daughter, Kayce, who is suffering from a severe E. coli O157:H7 infection after consuming contaminated lettuce at Pat & Oscar’s on September 28. The lawsuit was filed against Gold Coast Produce and Family Tree Produce in San Diego County Superior Court.
Approximately forty people, including Kayce Galindo, became ill with E. coli infections in late September and early October after consuming lettuce at different Pat & Oscar’s restaurants. Several school children became ill after consuming contaminated lettuce served in their school lunches. Marler Clark and Keeney, Waite, & Stevens have been retained by over a dozen victims.
“This is the second E. coli outbreak linked to contaminated lettuce in two years,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “It is outrageous that produce suppliers are not taking proper precautions to keep our food supply safe. Something must be done to protect our children from being served food laced with deadly pathogens.”
Kayce, a sixteen-year-old student and varsity volleyball player at Carlsbad High School, began experiencing severe abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea two days after she ate a salad at Pat & Oscar’s, and was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in San Diego for three days, then was discharged to recuperate. Kayce has again been hospitalized, after developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS, a life-threatening complication of E. coli infections that often leads to kidney failure.
“This latest outbreak is the tenth E. coli outbreak in the last ten years that has been traced to contaminated lettuce,” said Marler, whose firm represents several victims of a similar outbreak last summer that resulted in the illnesses of over fifty campers at a dance camp at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. “The lettuce packaging boasted that the product sold to Pat & Oscars and the School Districts was ‘three-times pre-washed.’ The problem is, if the produce or irrigation water came into contact with cattle or cattle feces during cultivation and harvest, washing would not have prevented any illnesses. The bacteria would have been inside the lettuce, not on the surface.”
“We filed this lawsuit based on California’s Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Laws and the California Health and Safety Code,” continued Marler. Under these laws, a manufacturer of food is “strictly liable” for injuries caused by food that was not “reasonably safe.” A food product is not reasonably safe if it does not meet a consumer’s reasonable expectations of safety. Because consumers reasonably expect the food they consume to be free of pathogens, the manufacturer of any food item that is contaminated with a pathogen, such as E. coli O157:H7 is liable to those who were harmed by consuming the product.
“Typically, when people think about E. coli O157:H7, they think, ‘hamburger,’” Marler concluded. “Consumers understand now that E. coli comes from cattle feces, and are especially careful when cooking ground beef. What they don’t realize is that if farmers aren’t careful, cattle feces can also contaminate fresh produce that doesn’t get cooked to a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria, or doesn’t get cooked at all – as in the case of lettuce.”
Notable prior outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 infection in the USA from salad and related products:
· Montana - An outbreak of infections in Montana (40 cases) in 1995 was traced to leaf lettuce.
· Connecticut & Illinois - An outbreak in Connecticut and Illinois during 1996 was ascribed to mesclun lettuce.
· Michigan - Alfalfa sprouts were responsible for 60 cases in Michigan (25 hospitalized; 2 HUS).
· Virginia - Alfalfa sprouts were responsible for 48 cases (11 hospitalized) in Virginia during 1997.
· California & Nevada - A mixture of alfalfa and clover sprouts was implicated in an outbreak in California and Nevada in 1998.
· Indiana - 33 cases were identified during an outbreak acquired from restaurant coleslaw in Indiana, 1998.
· North Carolina - An outbreak of 142 cases in North Carolina in 1998 was ascribed to coleslaw at a restaurant.
· Ohio - An outbreak of 30 cases in Ohio during 1999 was ascribed to contaminated coleslaw at a fast-food restaurant.
· Nebraska - A restaurant outbreak of 72 cases in Nebraska in 1999 was associated with contaminated iceberg lettuce.
· Multi-state - 2 multi-state community outbreaks in 1999 were associated with contaminated romaine lettuce.
· Washington - An outbreak of 29 cases of infection in Washington State during 2002 was ascribed to contaminated lettuce.
BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of E. coli illnesses. Marler Clark has represented over 1,000 E. coli victims since 1993, when William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million E. coli settlement with Jack in the Box. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for the five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for $12 million. In September, 2003, the Washington Supreme Court declined to review a decision upholding a $4.6 million award to 11 children injured in a 1998 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that was linked to undercooked taco meat served as part of a school lunch at an elementary school. The firm represented the school children in this case, both at trial, and on appeal. The partners at Marler Clark also speak frequently on a variety of food safety issues. Marler Clark is also proud to sponsor the informational web sites of www.about-ecoli.com and www.foodborneillness.com.
Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome is a frightening illness that even in the best American medical facilities has a mortality rate of about 5%. About 50% of patients require dialysis due to kidney failure, 25% experience seizures, and 5% suffer from diabetes mellitus. The majority of HUS patients requires transfusion of blood products and develops complications common to the critically ill. Among survivors of HUS, about five percent will eventually develop end stage kidney disease, with the resultant need for dialysis or transplantation, and another five to ten percent experience neurological or pancreatic problems which significantly impair quality of life.
More about the Gold Coast Produce lettuce E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.