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Lawsuit filed in E. coli illness: Parents blame Robeson schools

LUMBERTON -- A Red Springs couple whose daughter tested positive for E. coli last fall has filed a lawsuit against the Robeson County schools.

Jimmy and Kim Locklear filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Robeson County Superior Court on behalf of their daughter, Eden Kelli Locklear.

Eden, who is 11, is a sixth-grader at Prospect Elementary School. She was one of 34 people who tested positive for E. coli during an outbreak at the school in November.

At least 200 people showed symptoms of the infection. The outbreak was the largest in state history.

The Locklears contend in the lawsuit that the school system was responsible for their daughter’s illness.

Eden spent six days at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill as a result of the outbreak. She was diagnosed with Hemolytic uremic syndrome and renal failure.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a complication stemming from an E. coli infection. It could lead to kidney failure.

’Permanent injuries’

Eden has “permanent injuries that leave her at significant risk of serious future complications, and will require ongoing medical monitoring,’’ the lawsuit states.

She has “an increased chance of developing end stage of kidney disease with the resultant need for dialysis or transplantation.’’

An epidemiology report released in December said homemade butter served to students during a demonstration was the probable source of the E. coli.

The lawsuit says the school system was negligent because it failed to recognize the risk of serving unpasteurized butter to children, and it did not take adequate steps to avoid exposing students to food-borne patho- gens.

School officials also did not warn students and parents of the risks associated with consuming unpasteurized butter.

Pain and suffering

The lawsuit also says the school system did not comply with state codes and regulations governing the supervision and feeding of students.

The school system breached its common law duty to the Locklears and their daughter to exercise reasonable care and treatment of Eden while she was under its supervision, the lawsuit says.

School officials declined to comment. The Locklears could not be reached for comment.

The Locklears are seeking damages for “past and future pain and suffering, permanent physical injury, mental anxiety and emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and damage to parent-child relationship.’’

They are also seeking damages for medical expenses.

“This outbreak and Eden’s injuries would not have occurred had the school been more aware of what they were serving their students,’’ said William Marler, the Locklears’ lawyer.

Marler is the lead lawyer for Marler Clark, a Seattle-based law firm that specializes in cases involving food-borne illnesses. Marler represented a 9-year-old girl in a $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box.

Parent trust

In January 1993, more than 600 people got sick from eating undercooked Jack in the Box hamburgers contaminated with E. coli.

Most of the people were children, and four of them died.

“Parents trust that schools will act responsibly when it comes to the care of their children, but in this case, the school didn’t recognize the dangers of serving unpasteurized butter, which caused dozens of kids to suffer needlessly,’’ said William Britt, a Lumberton lawyer who is assisting in the case.

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