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Jack in the Box E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits

In early 1993, health care providers notified the Washington Department of Health that a cluster of children suffering hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) secondary to E. coli O157:H7 infection was being treated at an area hospital, and that they had noticed an increase in patients reporting to emergency rooms, suffering from bloody diarrhea. WDOH began an epidemiologic investigation and learned that nearly all patients had consumed hamburgers purchased from Jack in the Box restaurants in the days before becoming ill.

WDOH traced the E. coli outbreak to hamburger patties produced by Von Companies of California and sold by Jack in the Box. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from 11 lots of hamburger patties produced by Von’s on November 29 and 30, 1992. Jack in the Box initiated a recall of all ground beef product in its restaurants produced on those two days.

The ground beef had been distributed to Jack in the Box stores in Washington, Idaho, California, and Nevada, and by the end of February 1993 the states had reported the following:

  • Washington - 602 patients with bloody diarrhea or HUS. 477 culture-confirmed E. coli infections, 144 people hospitalizations; 30 HUS cases, and 3 deaths.

Idaho - 14 culture-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 cases , 4 hospitalizations, 1 HUS case.California – 34 patients with bloody diarrhea, 6 culture-confirmed cases, 14 hospitalizations, 7 HUS cases, and 1 death.Nevada – 58 patients with bloody diarrhea, 1 culture-confirmed E. coli case, 9 hospitalizations, and 3 HUS cases.

Seventy-three Jack in the Box restaurants were ultimately identified as having received recalled meat, and were part of the E. coli outbreak. A trace-back investigation was not able to uncover the slaughter plant that had produced the E. coli-contaminated meat for Von’s.

Over the course of the E. coli outbreak investigation and the numerous legal battle that followed, documents from Foodmaker, the San Diego-based parent company of Jack in the Box, revealed that the company had been warned by local health departments and by their own employees that they were undercooking their hamburgers prior to the outbreak, but the company had decided that cooking beef to 155 degrees, the standard set by WDOH, made the meat too tough.

Lawyers now at Marler Clark handled most of the litigation stemming from the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, which resulted in individual and class-action settlements totaling more than $50 million – the largest payments ever involving food-borne illness. The most severely injured victims of the outbreak were mostly younger children, including four who died. Bill Marler represented a nine-year-old Seattle girl who recovered after suffering kidney failure and other complications, including being in a coma for 42 days, and won a $15.6 million settlement from the company. He also represented over 100 other victims of the outbreak in claims against Jack in the Box. Their claims were resolved for undisclosed amounts.

For more information about the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak and lawsuits, please visit the Marler Clark Website.

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