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Lawyer asks White Water to Pay Medical Bills for E. coli Patients

Park Attorney Says Request 'Premature'

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

July 14, 1998

Virginia Anderson

A lawyer hired by families of two children infected during an E. coli outbreak linked to White Water Park has asked the park to consider paying medical costs of all 25 infected children.

The costs in some of the cases is tens of thousands of dollars and maybe as high as $ 200,000 in at least one case, but White Water is not making any promises.

"It's just the right thing to do," said William Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represented families in two other E. coli outbreaks, including the 1993 Jack in the Box contamination, in which four children died and several hundred more were sickened from eating undercooked hamburger. In the outbreak linked to White Water, Marler is representing a Louisville, Ky., family and the family of a 4-year-old girl hospitalized at Scottish Rite Children's Medical Center.

Tom Carlock, White Water's attorney for 14 years, said that the suggestion to pay medical costs was one of "10 or 15" things Marler mentioned to him in a Monday conversation.

"He conceptually asked me whether that's something White Water would consider doing," Carlock said. "But that's a premature question."

Marler said payment of medical fees would not necessarily be an admission of liability by the park and that an agreement could be fashioned to specify that. Carlock said White Water and public health officials need to gather more information about the outbreak.

"Is the water the issue?" Carlock said. "There's 20,000 cases of E. coli a year. This is just hard for me to believe" that the E. coli bacteria would be spread in a toddlers' wading pool. He said a White Water chaplain visited the family of one of two children hospitalized at Scottish Rite on Sunday night, at the request of the family. That was the first contact park personnel have had with any of the families since the outbreak, Carlock said. "It's just so sad," he said. "Our hearts go out to them."

Marler said the two families who retained him would like to work with the park and not file a lawsuit. Many of the children sickened in the outbreak have been or were on dialysis for days, and one child released from the hospital was admitted again briefly over the weekend in another state, Marler said. One of the children has suffered a stroke and a seizure.

Marler said his clients had been deeply moved by the letters, cards and well wishes of Atlantans and others who have written. "The rooms are full of balloons and bears," he said.

As of late Monday, two children remained hospitalized at Scottish Rite. A 2-year-old girl is still in critical condition, and a 4-year-old girl is in fair condition. A third child, a 2-year-old boy, is still listed in good condition at Egleston Children's Hospital.

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