Rochester lawyer Paul Nunes filed a complaint in U.S. District Court late Tuesday afternoon on behalf of his client, Patricia Ann McCoy of Pittsford, who alleges she contracted a severe gastrointestinal illness after eating a bag of Dole brand baby spinach she bought from Martin's Super Food Store in Perinton on or about Aug. 21.
The complaint says McCoy, who is in her 60s, ate a number of spinach salads in late August, and on Aug. 31 began experiencing abdominal cramps and diarrhea. McCoy alleges her symptoms worsened to bloody diarrhea and on Sept. 3 she went to Highland Hospital, where she received intravenous fluids and had diagnostic tests done. She left the hospital later that evening. Nunes said McCoy continues to recover from her infection.
Nunes said McCoy is the Monroe County resident identified by the New York state Health Department as testing positive for the specific strain of E. coli involved in the nationwide outbreak that has reportedly sickened 175 people.
Nunes said McCoy would not comment on her case. Natural Selection Foods of California, the producer and packager of the spinach, and Dole Food Co. of California and Delaware, the brand under which the spinach was sold, were named in the lawsuit. When called Tuesday afternoon, Natural Selection had an automated message that said the company is not answering phone calls because of high call volumes. A representative from Dole could not be reached for comment.
McCoy's complaint joins the numerous other lawsuits being filed nationwide in relation to the outbreak. The E. coli contamination has been linked to three spinach-growing counties in California, but the actual source of the contamination is still unknown. In mid-September, spinach was pulled off grocery store shelves and from restaurant menus, but will now slowly return after the source has been narrowed to spinach grown in California's Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties.
E. coli, which lives in the intestines of healthy cattle, deer, goats and sheep, is best known for its presence in undercooked beef. But animal feces can also contaminate produce.
Nunes' law firm, Underberg and Kessler, has frequently represented people claiming to have been sickened by all manner of pathogens: from those who alleged to have been ill from the salmonella outbreak at Brook-Lea Country Club in Gates in 2002, to representing people who caught the cryptosporidium parasite at the Seneca Lake State Park sprayground last year. Nunes is working with the Seattle law firm Marler Clark, which has also filed other spinach lawsuits on behalf of clients in Wisconsin, Oregon and Utah.
Nunes said he had always planned on filing the lawsuit but decided to do it Tuesday after news of the first E. coli spinach case here was reported.
"We're not talking about upset stomachs," Nunes said. "These are life-threatening illnesses that, in our opinion, are preventable."
Ingesting E. coli bacteria can cause a diarrheal illness that can last five to 10 days. But it can be serious, especially in the very young and elderly, and can cause kidney failure. One woman in Wisconsin has died from the outbreak, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the possibility of an E. coli connection in two other deaths in Idaho and Maryland.
New York state health officials have reported 11 spinach-related E. coli illnesses.