Lawsuit filed against food supplier by family of Sequoias resident who died from E. coli infection


REDWOOD CITY — Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally recognized for its successful representation of victims of foodborne illness, filed a lawsuit today in San Mateo Superior Court on behalf of the family of Alice McWalter, a Sequoias resident who died after eating E. coli O157:H7-contaminated spinach at the Sequoias Portola Valley retirement facility in October, 2003. The lawsuit was filed against Sodexho, Inc., the food provider for the Sequoias’ residents.

Mrs. McWalter, who was an 85-year-old in good health prior to this illness, began suffering from symptoms of E. coli infection, and was hospitalized at the Stanford University Hospital on October 12, 2003. While in the hospital, Mrs. McWalter’s infection worsened, and she suffered from Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP), complications of E. coli infection that damage the kidneys and affect the central nervous system. After fourteen days of nausea, diarrhea, and eventual renal failure, loss of consciousness, inability to speak, high fever, and seizures, Mrs. McWalter passed away.

“Mrs. McWalter’s family brought this suit before the Court because we feel that her illness was preventable,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “Senior citizens don’t have the same immune systems they did when they were in their 20s or 30s. They are less able to fight off foodborne illness. Being in the business of supplying meals to Seniors, Sodexho should have known this and made sure the food being served at the Sequoias was safe.”

“That this woman died after eating contaminated spinach is particularly disturbing,” Marler continued. “The whole state of California was, or should have been, paying special attention to food safety – especially fresh produce safety – at the time of this outbreak, since an outbreak in the San Diego area had been traced to E. coli-contaminated lettuce just weeks before.”

Forty-six residents and employees at the Sequoias reported symptoms of E. coli infection during the San Mateo County Health Services Agency investigation. Thirteen people had confirmed E. coli infections, and another three were listed as probable cases. Seven residents, including Mrs. McWalter, were hospitalized for treatment of their 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. Marler Clark represents 24 victims of E. coli poisoning traced to contaminated lettuce served at Pat & Oscars restaurants and school lunch programs in San Diego and Orange Counties in September and October. See the Marler Clark-sponsored web sites about E. coli and about Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

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