Lawyers for Food Poisoning Victims Sue USDA for Withholding Documents


JOLIET, IL — The Seattle law firm Marler Clark today filed suit against the USDA in Federal Court in Washington state, claiming the agency has improperly withheld documents concerning dozens of children that were poisoned by contaminated school lunches at Laraway Elementary School in Joliet, Illinois. Marler Clark represents about one third of the students and teachers that were sickened last November after eating anhydrous ammonia-tainted chicken tenders. The Will County Attorney General’s office recently filed 45 indictments against employees of the Illinois State Board of Education stemming from their involvement in the case. Investigation of the matter has indicated that the USDA knew of both the contamination of the food with anhydrous ammonia, and its eventual shipment to school lunch programs.

According to the USDA website (www.usda.gov/news/foia/guide.htm): “The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) . . . provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the United States government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request for them . . .” Marler Clark followed all of the proper channels of the Freedom of Information Act in requesting the USDA’s documents concerning its involvement in the Laraway Elementary School poisoning. The agency continues to refuse to meet its obligations under the act, and has not released any documents.

“The USDA is a public agency, funded by our tax dollars. The public at large, and the families of these poisoned children, have a right to know how federal government officials allowed this to happen,” said David Babcock, attorney for Marler Clark. “If there is a loophole in the system in place to protect the safety of school lunches, it must be closed.”

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BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of foodborne illnesses. The firm recently secured a verdict of $4.75 million against a School District in Eastern Washington after children became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating school lunch. William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for $12 million. Total recoveries exceed $75 million.

More about the Laraway Elementary School ammonia poisoning can be found in the Case News area of this site.