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More E. coli Suits to Come in Georgia

The lawyer representing the Moultrie family who filed a lawsuit against Nebraska Beef Limited anticipates more lawsuits will be filed.

Bill Marler of the Marler Clark Law Firm in Seattle, who filed the suit Monday on behalf of Evelyn and John Stewart, said he was also retained by two or three others infected with E. coli. Evelyn Stewart became infected with E. coli in June after eating at the Barbeque Pit, which received beef contaminated with E. coli from a distributor who got the meat from Nebraska Beef.

This is not the first time Marler Clark has filed a lawsuit against Nebraska Beef, as Marler said he represented two women who got E. coli in July 2006. They were two of the 29 people infected by contaminated beef at a church picnic in Minnesota. He also has two pending cases involving clients who were infected in Ohio by beef from Nebraska Beef that has since been recalled.

With the possibility of up to four lawsuits filed related to the E. coli outbreak in Moultrie, Marler said he does not, however, intend to file a suit against the Barbeque Pit. He believes the restaurant is a victim just like the eight people who became ill from E. coli infections.

The Barbeque Pit voluntarily closed July 3 to allow health workers full access to test for the E. coli infection and, after it was found, to disinfect the restaurant. Owner Ruth Hall said Thursday that more tests were performed that day and sent to a lab for analysis. Until those test results come back, she said, she doesn’t know when the restaurant will reopen.

Marler said the Barbeque Pit case is very similar to another suit he worked on, in which several people were infected after eating at a steakhouse. The E. coli bacteria came to the steakhouse in the beef, but people became ill after eating at the salad bar due to cross-contamination. As with the Barbeque Pit, he said, the infections could have been prevented before the meat reached the restaurant.

“Had the bacteria never made it into the restaurant,” Marler said, “this would never have happened.”

Even though he does not intend to file a lawsuit against the Barbeque Pit, Marler said he expects Nebraska Beef will. The company filed a lawsuit against the church involved in the Minnesota outbreak, claiming they mismanaged the meat and caused the infection to spread.

Marler said the recent trend in an increase in E. coli cases has been disturbing to see. From 1993 until 2002, Marler’s office dealt almost entirely with E. coli-related meat cases but had very few meat-related infections from 2004 to 2006.

Since the spring of 2007, however, Marler said there has been more than 40 million pounds of beef recalled because of E. coli contamination. Marler said he hopes the federal government can step in and regulate the beef industry to try to prevent the contaminations and try to understand what is causing the recent surge in them.

“It’s frustrating to me to be getting all of this business,” Marler said. “We thought we were out of the E. coli business in 2002. Congress needs to get into the middle of this.”

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