Marler Clark, E. coli victims sue BJ’s Wholesale Club for $25 Million


ORANGEBURG, NY — Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally known for its representation of food-borne illness victims, and Underberg & Kessler, a well-respected Rochester, New York law firm, are representing the families of Katelyn Koesterer (age 6) and Christina Graff (age 12). The two children were made violently ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after consuming ground beef purchased at the West Nyack BJ’s store in May 2002. Complaints were served today on attorneys for BJ’s alleging that BJ’s sold E. coli contaminated ground beef and that it should be held strictly liable for the sale of hamburger that was contaminated with a deadly pathogen and that was unfit for human consumption.

The lawsuits are based on the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and New York Food Regulations, and seek $25 million in compensation for past and future medical-related expenses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. The suits also seek punitive damages.

“The ground beef consumed by these children was contaminated with deadly fecal bacteria,” said William Marler, attorney for the children. “I’m not aware of any act, law or regulation that allows for the sale of a product so injurious to human health. We are suing because these little girls suffered tremendously, and they deserve to be compensated for what they went through. We are also filing suit because BJ’s refused to pay these kids’ medical bills. Frankly, I find that heartless.”

“This is not the first time BJ’s has sold meat that poisoned its customers,” continued Marler. In 1999, health officials in the North Eastern United States tied E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to ground beef patties sold at BJ’s. “We are also asking for punitive damages because BJ’s management needs to know how a jury of 12 consumers feels about two children being poisoned in a second outbreak. A jury will not tolerate BJ’s turning a blind eye and putting consumers at risk.”

During the week of May 13, 2002, Katelyn Koesterer and Christina Graff consumed hamburgers made from ground beef purchased at BJ’s. One week later, both children showed symptoms of E. coli infections, including cramping, vomiting and severe diarrhea. Both Katelyn and Christina’s parents sought medical attention for their children, and while Christina was treated and sent home to recover, Katelyn made several trips to her pediatrician and one to the West Nyack ER before being admitted to Westchester Medical Center. There, Katelyn was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and suffered pancreatic and kidney failure which forced her to undergo multiple blood transfusions to rid toxins from her blood stream. She developed hyperglycemia and suffered several seizures. Katelyn was discharged in June, nearly a month after she was first admitted to the hospital, and has since continued to have no pancreatic function. She must take pancreatic enzymes to digest her food, and is now an insulin dependent diabetic. She remains chronically fatigued and vulnerable to infections. To date Katelyn’s medical bills amount to approximately $110,000 and that number continues to rise.

“Katelyn Koesterer and Christina Graff’s E. coli infections were the direct result of consuming ground beef purchased from BJ’s,” said Marler. “This illness has been traumatic for not only the children, but also for their parents. Katelyn, who was once a healthy, active child, is now faced with debilitating medical conditions, and will have to live with the effects of her illness for the rest of her life.”

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BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of all food-borne illnesses. 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. Since 1993 Marler Clark has successfully resolved well over a thousand food-borne illness matters. Total recoveries exceed $75 million. Marler Clark is currently lead counsel in actions resulting from E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Listeria, Norwalk Virus or Hepatitis A outbreaks in several states. Marler Clark has also litigated on behalf of children against KFC, Bauer Meats, IBP, Excel, McDonalds, Hardees, and Wendy's. Marler Clark recently secured a verdict of $4.75 million against a School District in Eastern Washington.

More about the BJ's Wholesale Club E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.