Shigella lawsuit filed against airline caterer


SEATTLE – Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm internationally known for its representation of foodborne illness victims, filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Ernie Lyon, a Florida man who fell ill after eating contaminated food while on a flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Minneapolis, Minnesota in August of 2004. The food that Mr. Lyon consumed was contaminated with Shigella bacteria, a dangerous foodborne pathogen that causes severe gastrointestinal illness. The lawsuit, which was filed in Hawaii circuit court against Gate Gourmet, Inc., a food and beverage company that services the airline industry, alleges that the defendant manufactured and sold contaminated food to several different airlines, causing a widespread Shigella outbreak in late-summer 2004.

Gate Gourmet, Inc.’s Honolulu, Hawaii facility recently came under fire from the Food and Drug Administration for numerous federal food safety violations, including pest and vermin problems. “What the FDA found during its investigation was Gate Gourmet’s egregious disregard for the health and safety of the people consuming the company’s food,” said William Marler, managing partner at Marler Clark. “We’re not talking about minor health code violations. We’re talking about investigators finding vermin, food stored at temperatures over fifty degrees higher than what is considered safe, and a ‘pink slimy substance’ in the washing machine. In the dozen years that I have been litigating these cases, this is one of the most shocking reports I have seen.”

The Hawaii Department of Health has indicated that Mr. Lyon and as many as several hundred other passengers on twelve flights that departed from the Honolulu Airport August 22 through August 24, 2004, may have become ill as part of this outbreak. Passengers traveling to four countries and twenty-two U.S. states were ultimately confirmed by laboratory testing as having a genetically identical strain of Shigella, all having traveled on flights with meals catered by Gate Gourmet’s Honolulu location. Many more are expected to have been sickened but their illnesses were not confirmed through laboratory testing.

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BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has represented over 1,000 victims of foodborne illness outbreaks since 1993, when William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million E. coli settlement with Jack in the Box. The firm has litigated on behalf of victims of E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, Shigella, Norovirus, and Hepatitis A outbreaks in over 30 states. For more information on Shigella, visit www.about-shigella.com and www.shigellablog.com.

More about the Gate Gourmet Shigella outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.