Lawsuit filed in E. coli death of Md. woman


Calif. company accused of negligence in outbreak linked to tainted spinach

A federal lawsuit was filed today on behalf of an elderly Hagerstown woman whose attorneys claim died as a result of eating tainted spinach.

Unspecified damages -- the amount to be determined at trial -- are being sought for the death of June Dunning, 86. The lawsuit suit claims she died last month after eating raw spinach tainted with the same E. coli bacteria strain identified in the outbreak.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has ruled out three of the state's four pending E. coli cases as being part of a national outbreak linked to tainted spinach.

The fourth case, involving the death of an elderly woman, remains under investigation, state officials have said. Maryland health officials have not identified the woman, but family members have said it was Dunning.

Natural Selection Foods LLC San Juan Bautista, Calif., and Natural Selections Foods Manufacturing are named as defendants in the suit filed today, along with Dole Food Co. of Westlake Village, Calif. A spokeswoman for Natural Selection Foods did not immediately return a call today seeking comment.

Three people have died and 200 people nationwide have been hospitalized for illnesses caused by tainted spinach. Along with the spinach outbreak, suspected E. coli contamination also recently prompted recalls of lettuce and ground beef. The outbreak marked the 20th time lettuce or spinach has been blamed for illnesses since 1995.

The spinach outbreak has been tracked to plants grown in California's Salinas Valley. Natural Selection Foods, the company at the center of the crisis, has begun sampling every lot of greens and holding shipments until test results come back.

The cause of the outbreak has not been determined.

The E. coli bacteria can be found in animal and human feces and can be transmitted to produce through contaminated water, inadequate hygiene and animals that wander onto fields.

The FBI has searched processing plants for evidence of problems and state investigators are looking into contamination from manure, irrigation water or even workers relieving themselves in fields.

The suit claims the defendants breached their duty to provide food fit for human consumption by failing to properly supervise, train and monitor their employees.

"The defendants failed to do so and were therefore negligent," the suit claims.

On the Net

Federal Centers for Disease Control tainted spinach page:

http://www.cdc.gov/foodborne/ecolispinach/current.htm

Food and Drug Administration:

http://www.fda.gov

U.S. Department of Agriculture:

http://www.usda.gov