First Suit Tied to Peanut Butter-Related Salmonella Outbreak Is Filed

The first lawsuit tied to the recent salmonella outbreak in certain brands of peanut butter was filed on Tuesday against a supplier to Kellogg Co., which has recalled several of its products in recent weeks.

So far, six people have died and more than 470 were sickened in 43 states. This month, the disease was traced to peanut butter that originated in a Georgia plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to Kellogg, several other manufacturers and grocery chains have pulled peanut butter products from shelves. The FDA has advised consumers not to eat cookies, cakes, ice cream and other foods that contain peanut butter or peanut butter paste. Peanut butter sold in jars at supermarkets is considered safe.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, was filed by Gabrielle and Daryl Meunier, a Vermont couple whose 7-year-old son got sick on Nov. 25 with fever, vomiting and diarrhea. After being hospitalized, their son tested positive for contracting a strain of salmonella that is now linked to peanut butter. Meunier v. Peanut Corporation of America, No. 1:09-cv-00012 (M.D. Ga.).

"It's a strict liability case," said Bill Marler, managing partner of Seattle's Marler Clark, who filed the lawsuit. "We filed it in Georgia because we anticipate that eventually the cases may get consolidated either by a court or through an MDL process, and it's likely that Georgia will be the center of the attention since that's where the manufacturing facility is."

Officials at Peanut Corporation of America, which has voluntarily recalled its products, could not be reached for comment. But in a prepared statement, Stewart Parnell, president of Peanut Corporation of America, recently said: "We deeply regret that this product recall has expanded, and our first priority is to protect the health of our customers."

Marler said he has been retained by 20 other people nationwide who could file other suits. But he said the recent outbreak is not anticipated to surpass the number of lawsuits filed over another outbreak in recent years tied to Peter Pan peanut butter.

Fred Pritzker, of PritzkerLaw in Minneapolis, said he planned to file a lawsuit on Tuesday in Minnesota state court on behalf of the family of a 72-year-old woman who died in a nursing home after eating peanut butter. "This outbreak is going to expand, and we will definitely be representing many more people in this outbreak," he said.

The Kellogg products being recalled include Austin Quality Foods, Keebler brands of peanut butter sandwich crackers and some packages of Famous Amos and Keebler peanut butter cookies. Last week, the FDA said it was expanding its investigation of peanut products tied to the outbreak.