E. coli lawsuit filed against Florida Petting Zoo

Attorneys represent woman who became ill with E. coli infection after exposure at Central Florida Fair

ORLANDO – Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally known for its representation of E. coli victims, and Michael Heilmann, a respected member of the Florida bar, will file a lawsuit today against Ag-Venture Farm Shows, the petting zoo at the center of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at the Central Florida State Fair in Orlando, the Florida State Fair in Tampa, and the 2005 Florida Strawberry Festival. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Yvonne Miller, an Orlando resident who became ill with an E. coli O157:H7 infection after attending the Central Florida State Fair.

Ms. Miller attended the fair on March 13 with her three children. Three days later, she became ill with symptoms of E. coli infection. Ms. Miller was hospitalized for five days, and required a blood transfusion.

“I have represented dozens of victims in E. coli lawsuits against fair and petting zoo operators over the last five years,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “In this case, preliminary reports indicated that petting zoos were the likely source of infection; however, I decided to file suit only after it was absolutely clear that Ag-Venture Farm Show animals were the source. Now that the Florida Department of Health has confirmed that people became ill after being exposed to Ag-Venture’s animals at three different venues, we are certain Ag-Venture is responsible for our client’s illness.”

Marler continued, “Being in the business, Ag-Venture should have known that it is not uncommon for livestock to carry E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogenic bacteria, and should have done a better job of protecting fairgoers from exposure to pathogens. As we’re seeing during this outbreak, it can be a matter of life and death. I’ve been contacted by the families of several victims of this outbreak. It’s a tragedy.”

A 2003 study on the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in livestock at 29 county and 3 large state agricultural fairs in the United States found that E. coli O157:H7 could be isolated from 13.8% of beef cattle, 5.9% of dairy cattle, 3.6% of pigs, 5.2% of sheep, and 2.8% of goats (see www.fair-safety.com).

“This is the same prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 that is seen in feed lots for these animals. How many of us would take our kids to visit a feed lot to let them pet the animals? The Petting Zoo and Fair Industry needed to take this risk more seriously. If they had paid attention years ago, or even months ago during the North Carolina State Fair, this disaster could have been prevented,” added Marler.

Marler has advocated for stricter sanitation at petting zoos for several years. He again recommended the following:

·       Sanitize walkways and railingsand provide ample hand-washing areas for both employees and visitors.

·       Stop selling or allowing food in close proximity to areas where animals are on display.

·       Reduce the risk of airborne contamination by keeping livestock areas damp with an approved disinfectant.

·       Screen all display animals for E. coli O157:H7 - or require that exhibitors show proof their animals are pathogen-free.

·       Educate visitors. Post signs that explain to parents the importance of hand-washing before and after visiting the animals. Post tough warnings at the entrances, emphasizing the real risks to small children.


BACKGROUND: Marler Clark is a law firm dedicated to representing victims of outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7. The firm currently represents nine victims of the 2004 North Carolina State Fair E. coli outbreak. Mr. Marler, who represented 29 victims of the 2002 Lane County, Oregon, fair E. coli outbreak that sickened 82 people, recently spoke to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions at their annual meeting in Las Vegas, NV about the dangers of petting zoos.