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University of Michigan Student Files E. coli Lawsuit Against Aunt Mid’s Produce

Another E. coli lawsuit was filed today against Detroit-based Aunt Mid’s Produce in the aftermath of a lettuce-borne outbreak linked to the company. The complaint was filed in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court on behalf of a University of Michigan senior sickened in the outbreak. The plaintiff is represented by Marler Clark, a Seattle food borne illness law firm, and by Michael Heilmann of the Detroit-area attorney Michael Heilmann.

In September 2008, at least 38 people were sickened in Michigan alone by the virulent E. coli strain O157:H7. The ill included 4 University of Michigan students as well as 9 students at Michigan State University and inmates at Lenawee County Jail. The investigation conducted by the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) traced the outbreak to iceberg lettuce commercially distributed by Aunt Mid’s Produce. Genetic fingerprinting matched the illnesses across the state, as well as to others sickened in Illinois and Canada.

The plaintiff consumed the contaminated lettuce in mid-September, and by September 19, she began to experience abdominal cramps, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. She sought treatment at the University of Michigan Health Service Clinic, and by the time she arrived there, her cramps were so intense she had trouble breathing. Due to her severe dehydration, the clinic nurse was unable to administer IV fluids, so she was discharged and instructed to go immediately to the University of Michigan Hospital Emergency Room. A stool sample was taken while she was at the clinic which later confirmed her E. coli O157:H7 infection.

While at the UM Hospital Emergency room, the plaintiff continued to experience bouts of bloody diarrhea every 15 minutes, and was in extreme pain. In triage, her vital signs were stable, so the hospital declined to admit her. Her mother then drove the plaintiff to the Royal Oak hospital, where she continued to endure her symptoms for hours until she was admitted. She remained hospitalized for 10 days, and during that time had to be fed by a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) in her chest, as she was unable to eat or drink. Even though she was discharged on September 30, the PICC remained in place until October 6. She continues to recover from her illness.

“This young woman endured a severe and excruciating illness, just because of something she ate,” said her attorney, William Marler. “She was so worried about missing school that she returned to class while still being fed by the PICC. We need to make sure she doesn’t worry about how to pay her medical bills. We also need to work to prevent future outbreaks; Aunt Mid’s could help that process by revealing the source of their contaminated lettuce, but they continue to refuse to do so.”

Earlier this month, the two firms representing the plaintiff filed suit on behalf of another student sickened in the outbreak.

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