On July 31, 2000, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) learned that a stool specimen from a 20-month-old boy who had been admitted to a local hospital had tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. This result was later confirmed through lab testing conducted by NJDOH.
During the course of its investigation into the boy’s illness, NJDOH learned that the boy’s parents had cooked hamburgers at home on July 22, 2000 and that the hamburgers were made from ground beef purchased from Karl Ehmer Meats. The following day, July 23, each member of the family began complaining of diarrhea and nausea. Later that day, both the boy and his sister began having increasingly frequent bouts of diarrhea.
By July 26, the boy’s symptoms began to worsen. He started running a moderate fever, and on July 27 his parents noticed that mucus was mixed with his stool. They contacted their son’s pediatrician multiple times over the next several days as his condition deteriorated, and on July 29 were advised to take him to the hospital.
While he was hospitalized, the boy had multiple platelet transfusions and suffered acute renal failure. At one point he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated by the on-call respiratory therapist. CAT Scans revealed that he had suffered severe intra-cranial bleeding and cerebral swelling. A catheter was surgically inserted so that dialysis could be performed, but medical staff determined after the surgery that no further medical procedures, including dialysis, were available to treat the child. The boy died on August 1, 2000.
NJDOH tested leftover hamburger patties purchased from Karl Ehmer Meats recovered from the family’s residence and found them to be positive for a genetically indistinguishable strain of E. coli O157:H7 from the strain isolated from the boy’s stool. In addition, the boy’s parents and sister submitted blood samples which later confirmed that they had been exposed to E. coli O157:H7.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined the investigation to determine where the contaminated meat had come from and the meat used to make the ground beef purchased by the family was “shoulder clod” supplied to Karl Ehmer by IBP.
Marler Clark represented the family in a wrongful death claim against Karl Ehmer and IBP. The case was resolved for an undisclosed sum in 2003.