Odwalla May Face Punitive Damages

Odwalla may face punitive damages under California law in a lawsuit stemming from the near-death of a Chicago girl in an E. coli outbreak linked to unpasteurized apple juice, a judge ruled yesterday.

The ruling could make a significant monetary difference in a suit for unspecified damages by Amanda Berman, who was 4 when she drank a bottle of Odwalla apple juice and contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome from E. coli exposure.

The little girl got the juice in October 1996 while in Seattle. After returning to Chicago, she became sick and spent 16 days on kidney dialysis, the longest of any survivor of the outbreak. She remains at risk for kidney failure, according to her lawyer, William Marler of Seattle.

If Amanda Berman's suit goes to trial, Odwalla lawyers can try again then to apply Washington state's prohibition on punitive damages in addition to awards for pain, suffering and medical bills, King County Superior Court Judge Robert Lasnik ruled.

The suit centers on claims that the outbreak resulted from contamination at Odwalla's bottling works at Dinuba, Calif., so California law allowing punitive damages should apply, Marler argued in court papers.