PHOENIX, AZ—The law offices of Seattle-based Marler Clark and Phoenix-based O’Steen & Harrison filed a lawsuit late last week against Townsend Farms, the company whose frozen berry and pomegranate seed product has been identified as the source of at least 97 hepatitis A cases among residents of 8 states. The lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of Claudine Rad, a woman who alleges she fell ill with a hepatitis A infection after eating “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate seed product sold at Costco.
According to the lawsuit, Claudine Rad consumed the Townsend Farms organic berry mix multiple times during April and May, 2013. She fell ill with flu-like symptoms, fatigue, nausea and jaundice—all symptoms of hepatitis A infection. Claudine suffered from these symptoms for several weeks and has yet to return to her regular work schedule. She estimates that she lost over 3 weeks of work-time due to her illness. Claudine sought medical care following news that the Townsend Farms frozen berry blend had been recalled and learned in early June that she had tested positive for hepatitis A.
The public health investigation into the hepatitis A outbreak led to the determination that pomegranate seeds from Turkey were the likely source of hepatitis A in the Townsend Farms product. The CDC stated that the genotype of hepatitis A associated with the outbreak is 1B, a strain rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East. Hepatitis A genotype 1B was associated with outbreaks in Europe and Canada in 2013 and 2012, respectively. In both outbreak-situations, frozen berries or frozen berry blends with pomegranate seeds were implicated as the source of illness.
“It seems to me that Townsend Farms had some warning that it should be examining its suppliers’ food safety practices,” said attorney Bill Marler. “What we think of as healthy food can only be good for us if it is safe.”
This is the second individual personal injury lawsuit filed by Marler Clark and O’Steen & Harrison on behalf of an Arizona resident, and the third lawsuit the firms have filed against Townsend Farms in Arizona. The third is a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all Arizona residents who received hepatitis A vaccination or immune globulin injections to prevent infection with hepatitis A or who were tested for hepatitis A following exposure to the virus.
BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has represented thousands of victims of foodborne illness outbreaks, including hundreds of victims of hepatitis A outbreaks and thousands who were exposed to hepatitis A and were forced to receive inoculations against the virus. In the last 20 years, Marler Clark has recovered over $600 million in damages from companies that sold unsafe food.