E. coli Lawsuit Filed

KEARNEY — A lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of a Kearney woman who allegedly got sick from eating at a Kearney restaurant in February.

Kearney attorney Nancy Freburg filed the lawsuit on behalf of Melissa Hodgson, 25, of Kearney, and her husband, Chad. Freburg is the acting attorney for the Marler Clark law firm in Seattle.

In a press release disseminated earlier this week, attorneys for Hodgson said she became ill March 1 after eating from the salad bar at the Kearney Golden Corral restaurant and three days later suffered from bloody diarrhea. She tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, according to the release. She did not required hospitalization and her illness started dissipating by March 8. Her husband did not eat lettuce from the salad bar. State health officials believe the E. coli bacteria originated in lettuce served on the salad bar.

William Marler, attorney from Marler Clark, said in a telephone interview the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages stemming from Hodgson’s illness, as well as the costs for any future medical problems that may occur.

“It’s a little early to determine the amount of damages. Fortunately, Melissa was not a severely injured person,” Marler said. “I’ve seen enough E. coli 0157:H7 cases where sometimes adults develop gastrointestinal problems that don’t show up until later. We’ll have to see how things shake out.”

“Chad Hodgson also suffered the loss of love, affection, care, services, companionship and society” of his wife “as a direct result of her illness and injury,” the lawsuit contends. The lawsuit alleges that medical concerns remain about the long-term impact of the E. coli bacteria on Melissa Hodgson.

“She is ultimately gong to be OK, it’s just to what degree,” Marler said.

Melissa Hodgson works in customer service at Morris Press in Kearney while her husband is a student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Several telephone calls made to their home went unanswered.

The office of Thomas Safranek, state epidemiologist for Nebraska Health and Human Services in Lincoln, began receiving reports in early March of the intestinal illness associated with E. coli. The illness first came to the forefront when laboratory personnel at Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney reported a cluster of positive E. coli results. Of the 72 total cases received from Safranek’s office, seven occurred through secondary person-to-person contact.

Marler said he and his partner have handled about 700 E. coli lawsuits in the last five years, including several personal injury lawsuits filed against Jack in the Box restaurants. A $15.6 million settlement was reached in that case, setting a Washington State record for an individual personal injury action.

The Kearney restaurant is one of four owned by Tri-Golden Management, a partnership based in Evergreen, Colo., that is a franchisee to Golden Corral, Inc.

Mike Kutch, president of Tri-Golden Management, said Wednesday afternoon that he heard about the lawsuit from a radio station broadcast while he was leaving Kearney.

He confirmed that victims of the E. coli illness that were linked to his restaurant have been contacted by the company’s insurance carrier and is paying any medical bills and time lost from work. Kutch said that Hodgson was contacted by the insurance carrier, but he does not know whether any reimbursement was made.

Kutch said as soon as he was presented with a copy of the lawsuit, he would be willing to comment on it.