E. coli outbreak at nursing home puts seniors at severe risk


SEATTLE, WA - An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at a Portola Valley retirement center has sickened at least seventeen residents and seven staff members. Health officials are investigating the outbreak, and are focusing their investigation on food served at the facility and the food handling practices of foodservice workers employed there. Seven residents were hospitalized, one is in critical condition, and three have been released.

“This is certainly a tragedy,” said Denis Stearns, an attorney with Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally known for its successful representation of E. coli victims. “And one hopes that there was no negligence involved. Preparing and serving food to a vulnerable, elderly population requires the greatest of care and the highest food safety standards. Because, like a match dropped in a dry forest, mistakes can have devastating consequences.”

In 2002, Marler Clark represented the family of a woman who was a resident in a nursing home, and was served salmonella-contaminated cantaloupe. Her salmonella infection, and the resulting complications, were determined to be the cause of her death.

Victims of E. coli O157:H7 infections suffer from severe stomach cramping, nausea, and bloody diarrhea. E. coli infections are particularly hard on the young, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Although most people recover from their infections, about five-to-ten percent of infected individuals goes on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (“HUS”) or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (“TTP”), severe life-threatening complications. Both conditions lead to kidney failure, and are likely to involve some type of central nervous system or pancreas involvement.

“We’re looking at an increased chance that some of the victims of this outbreak will develop HUS or TTP, due to their advanced age,” Stearns continued. “E. coli really takes its toll on the elderly, as well as the very young. For example, we represented a woman’s family after she developed TTP and ultimately died as a result of her E. coli infection during last year’s ConAgra E. coli outbreak. These situations are terribly sad, especially because they are preventable.”

Marler Clark represents fifteen individuals who were part of the E. coli outbreak linked to contaminated lettuce sold to Pat & Oscar’s restaurants and school districts in San Diego and Orange Counties earlier this month. The firm represents one elderly client with TTP, and several children who developed HUS secondary to their E. coli infections.

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BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of E. coli illnesses. The firm 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. See Marler Clark-sponsored web sites www.about-ecoli.com and www.about-hus.com.

More about the Sodexho spinach E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.