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First Georgia E. coli Suit Filed

VALDOSTA — A Moultrie couple has filed the first Georgia lawsuit in connection with a national E. coli outbreak.

Lawyers for Evelyn and John Stewart of Moultrie filed the suit Monday morning in Federal Court in Valdosta, according to a press release from Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm that specializes in representing victims of foodborne illnesses. Also representing the Stewarts is F. Faison Middleton IV of Watson, Spence, Lowe & Chambless, LLP, in Albany.

The defendant in the case is Nebraska Beef Limited, which is believed to have supplied the beef linked to an outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) 0157 in seven states. The press release did not specify damages being sought.

As of last week, eight cases of E. coli had been confirmed in Colquitt County, a report from the district public health office said. Four cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome here are presumed to be connected to the E. coli, the report said.

A lab test linked one of the confirmed E. coli cases with cases in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Kentucky and Indiana, the Southwest Georgia Public Health District said last week. Marler Clark said Monday that one or more cases in Utah are also related.

At least 60 people have fallen ill in those seven states, the attorneys’ release said.

The common link among Colquitt County’s confirmed cases, the public health district said, was that all had eaten at The Barbeque Pit, a Moultrie restaurant. The restaurant voluntarily closed July 3 to allow public health workers to investigate. The health district said E. coli was found there, and officials learned The Barbeque Pit had recently begun getting beef from a new supplier, who had received it from Nebraska Beef.

The restaurant remains closed as health workers finish their investigation and plans are made to disinfect the equipment there.

The Stewarts’ lawsuit states that on June 20 the Stewarts ate at The Barbeque Pit. Days later, Mrs. Stewart began having bloody diarrhea and signs of renal failure. She was admitted to the Colquitt Regional Medical Center, where she tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 and was diagnosed with HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, the attorneys’ press release said. On June 26, she was transferred to the Archbold Memorial Hospital Medical Intensive Care Unit in Thomasville, where she continues to battle the complications of the infection.

According to reports, at least two others remain hospitalized at Archbold, including Faye Bryant of Moultrie.

“Where is the legislation to prevent these illnesses?” asked William Marler, the Stewarts’ attorney. “These people should not be in ICU, fighting for their lives, just because they went out to dinner. We have the ability to legislate, regulate and eliminate E. coli from our food supply, and we need to see congressional action.”

“After changes in meat regulation dropped recall amounts from 23 million pounds in 2002 to only 181,900 pounds in 2006, 39 million pounds of E. coli-tainted meat has been recalled since the spring of 2007. The numbers have just shot up in the last year,” Marler said, “and so have illnesses. If this was a serial killer — which, actually, it is — every resource in this country would have been mobilized against it. Nothing less is acceptable.”

Marler Clark has represented thousands of victims of foodborne illness outbreaks since the landmark Jack in the Box E. coli case. The firm’s attorneys have litigated high-profile food poisoning cases against such companies as ConAgra, Wendy’s, Chili’s, Chi-Chi’s and Cargill.

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