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Taco John’s suit filed in Albert Lea

January 18, 2007

Albert Lea Tribune (MN)

Tim Engstrom and Sarah Light

The first lawsuit in Minnesota on behalf of a victim of the last year’s E. coli outbreak was filed late Wednesday afternoon in Freeborn County District Court.

The court papers say parent Julie Johnson and son Mitchell Evans seek a jury trial against Freeborn County Taco Inc., Eldon J. Hill, Denise F. Atkinson and James A. Atkinson, all doing business as Taco John’s of Albert Lea.

The papers say Evans consumed a beef soft-shell taco on Dec. 1 in Albert Lea.

“Several days after the aforementioned meal at Taco John’s, Mitchell Evans began to suffer from severe and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal cramping, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea,” the court documents state.

The papers claim the symptoms lasted more than a week. Johnson contacted the Freeborn County Health Department. The documents say a test from a stool sample revealed her son had E. coli O157:H7.

A lawyer in the case is Seattle-based William D. Marler, who has filed two other lawsuits on behalf of people who ate tainted food at Taco John’s restaurants in Iowa. He filed those cases last month in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo in Iowa.

The E. coli outbreak last year sickened about 81 people who had eaten at Taco John’s restaurants in Minnesota and Iowa in November and December. Among those sickened, 26 were hospitalized. There were no deaths.

Health officials have said contaminated California-grown lettuce was the possible source of the E. coli at the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based company.

Johnson and Evans seek an unstated monetary amount for damages, claiming Taco John’s should acccept liability for the food and claiming Taco John’s demonstrated breach of warranty and negligence.

Marler spoke today at the Minnesota Environmental Health Association’s winter conference at the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Education and Conference Center in St. Paul.

His presentation was titled “How to Sue a Health Department:

Understanding the Risk of Legal Liability for Negligent Inspections and Other Alleged Failures.”

The Taco John’s home office in Cheyenne is in the Mountain Time zone and could not be reached for comment this morning before press deadline.

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