Lawsuit Filed by Woman Sickened in Second E. coli Outbreak linked to KFC


SEATTLE, WA -- Today, Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm, and Cincinnati attorney, Maury Tepper, announced the filing of a lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of Ohio resident Geraldine Johnson, who became infected with the deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria after consuming coleslaw at a Cincinnati, Ohio KFC in July 1999. Ms. Johnson was hospitalized for 30 days, while being treated for acute kidney failure. “Nearly everyday we hear about another case of E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria tied to some food product. However, I have never seen a situation where the same product, and the same bacteria, caused two outbreaks at the same restaurant chain one year apart,” said attorney William Marler of Marler Clark. “It is frankly shocking that KFC did not move faster to assure its customers that lightening, in the form of E. coli, would not strike twice,” added Marler.

According to the Ohio State Department of Health, in late July 1999, a Cincinnati hospital reported 4 cases of E. coli O157:H7 in one week. By August 2, an additional 11 cases were confirmed in the Cincinnati area. Subsequent interviews of infected individuals found 11 out of 15 had been to KFC restaurants in 3 southwestern counties in the week prior to the onset of their illness. 12 cases were found to have identical genetic patterns in their E. coli O157 isolates. This pattern was recognized as the outbreak pattern. Case-control studies implicated KFC cole slaw as the vehicle. According to an Ohio Department of Health report, “Sanitarians visited the involved KFCs and found a number of deficiencies in the preparation of the cole slaw, such as inclusion of outer cabbage leaves, insufficient washing of cabbage, and use of unpeeled carrots in the cole slaw.”

During the Ohio investigation, it was learned that an outbreak of E. coli O157 involving KFC coleslaw had occurred in Indianapolis, Indiana in May 1998. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, in May 1998, 2 county health departments confirmed 4 cases of E. coli O157:H7. Eventually, 27 confirmed outbreak-related cases were identified. Food handlers who made coleslaw were interviewed about food preparation and storage procedures:

“Reportedly, a 100-pound batch of coleslaw was made the morning of Tuesday, May 5. Due to the unavailability of cabbage from their regular suppliers, the restaurant obtained cabbage from a different supplier. The cabbage was reportedly of low quality (i.e. had rotten and torn leaves, was “mushy,” and was unusually soiled). Some of the cabbage was discarded due to its poor condition. The outer leaves of the cabbage and the stalks were removed. Although the restaurant’s standard operating procedures for preparing coleslaw called for the heads to be washed after the outer leaves were removed, the food handlers reported that they did not wash it. The unwashed heads were then cut into quarters on cutting boards. A food handler commented that the cutting boards were noticeably soiled with dirt after this process.” – Indiana State Department of Health, Final Report, July 2, 1998.

In both the May 1998 and July 1999 outbreaks, the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria was most likely introduced into the coleslaw by contaminated cabbage. Similar to other vegetables which have been associated with outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, such as lettuce and alfalfa sprouts, cabbage is grown close to the ground and may have been contaminated with cattle or other animal feces containing E. coli O157:H7. KFC’s alleged failure to implement safe food handling procedures after the first outbreak is the basis for Ms. Johnson’s claim for punitive damages.

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Background: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of food-borne illness. Managing Partner William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box, creating a Washington State record for an individual personal injury action. Mr. Marler also represented several other victims from the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak with numerous cases settling for more than $1.5 million each. In May 1998, he settled the 1996 Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for the five families whose children were severely injured after consuming Odwalla brand apple juice. Marler Clark has also represented hundreds of individuals infected with Salmonella, Shigella, and Hepatitis A after consuming contaminated foods.

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