Seattle, Cleveland firms file E. coli lawsuit in state


COLUMBUS - Health authorities still have not identified the supplier of tainted beef that has made more than three dozen people sick in Ohio and Michigan.

But at least one Ohio resident has filed a lawsuit against Kroger and the unidentified supplier of the ground beef infected with E. coli.

Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark LLP - which specializes in foodborne-illness cases - and Cleveland-based Phillips, Mille and Constabile filed on Monday the first E. coli lawsuit in the Ohio-Michigan outbreak in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf Amanda Joan Adam, 26, of New Albany, who was hospitalized just days after consuming ground beef infected with E. coli O157:H7.

The lawsuit accuses the grocer of negligence and seeks at least $25,000 in damages.

Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Gylnn said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

More lawsuits related to the E. coli outbreak could be forthcoming, said R. Drew Falkenstein, an attorney with Marler Clark LLP.

"I think (this) is a major outbreak because there are a lot of people who are sick," Falkenstein said.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, senior citizens and people with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site.

Fairfield County is one of six counties in Ohio with individuals who have contracted the foodborne-illness or are suspected of having the bacteria. There are four confirmed cases in the county - two males and two females ranging in ages from 11 to 47.

There are a total of 18 confirmed and suspected cases in the Ohio. Michigan health officials have confirmed at least 16 cases of E. coli illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this past week E. coli cases in Ohio and Michigan were linked both epidemiologically and genetically.

A ground beef sample from Kroger Marketplace in Gahanna tested positive for the same strain of E. coli linking the cases in the two states.

The lawsuit filed Monday states the ground beef that infected Adam was purchased at the Kroger store at 7100 Perimeter Loop in Dublin.

As of noon Monday, local health officials were notified that a ground beef sample submitted by Columbus Public Health tested positive for the E. coli strain, according to the Regional Central Ohio E. coli news release. The news release didn't state where the sample came from. Further DNA testing currently is pending at the Ohio Department of Health Laboratory to determine if there is a match to the human cases in Ohio.

The Kroger Company, a Cincinnati-based retailer, has recalled an undetermined amount of ground beef products that might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, according to the USDA Web site.

The products subject to recall include all varieties and weights of ground beef products bearing a Kroger label sold between May 21 and June 8 at Michigan and central and northwestern Ohio Kroger retail establishments. These ground beef products also include a sell-by date between May 21 and June 8. These products were distributed to Kroger stores in Michigan and Columbus and Toledo, according to the USDA Web site.

ABOUT THE LAWSUIT

Adam purchased two ground beef patties from the store on or around June 4, according to the lawsuit.

She and her boyfriend each ate one of the cooked patties as hamburgers for dinner the day they purchased the ground beef patties. She began to feel sick about four days later, and she developed increasingly severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including worsening nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, according to the lawsuit.

Adam went to the Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati two days later and remained in the hospital until June 12. A stool sample Adam submitted while hospitalized tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, matching the strain of the bacteria found in the Kroger ground beef outbreak, according to the lawsuit.

Adam continues to recover from her infection, according to the lawsuit. Adam communicated through her attorneys that she doesn't want to do any interviews at this time.

Adam's lawsuit does not name the beef producer. Lawyers said they would amend the lawsuit when they determine the vendor.

MORE PEOPLE COULD FILE LAWSUITS

More than a dozen individuals and families who believe they are linked to the outbreak have contacted Marler Clark, according to one of the law firm's blog sites.

The law firm - which has been involved in every major E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the country since the Jack in the Box outbreak of 1993 - is completing its investigation of five cases that are genetically linked to Kroger meat, according to its blog site.

"We're reviewing cases and taking a look at materials to make sure it's part of the ongoing outbreak," Falkenstein said.

There also might be a connection between the Ohio and Michigan outbreak and some E. coli O157:H7 cases in Georgia, which could turn it into a bigger issue, Falkenstein said.

"We're looking at the possibility that these two outbreaks are linked," he said.

Falkenstein said it's critical the supplier of the tainted meat is identified.

"That will help guide the decisions other entities made; that's why it's important everyone comes forward with all the information they've got (on what company supplied the infected meat)," he said.