E. Coli Lawsuits

Everyone must eat. It is a matter of public convenience, and of public trust, that a person can buy food prepared by another. The public trusts food preparers. Without that trust, we don’t have a viable society in the sense we are accustomed to. So, persons who don’t learn the responsibility of food safety, or who shirk it, are dangerous. They are dangerous to those individuals whom they allow to become infected, and they are dangerous to society as a whole, because they eat away at the public trust that binds us together. That is why courts both civil and criminal are involved in providing justice for victims of E. coli poisoning.

The myriad of U.S. food-safety regulations – local, state, and federal – exists because infections such as E. coli can be so deadly. In the last 20 years alone, some 30 million people worldwide have died from E. coli, a disturbing majority of these in countries without the close-knit web of food safety regulations that this country has installed.

Given our safety net designed to keep deaths at zero, why do U.S. deaths from E. coli still number more than 5 dozen annually?  Two reasons.

  1. Sometimes people in the food-supply chain drop the ball. They try to comply with the rules, but they muff some part of the responsibility. Although hard to excuse, easy to imagine is a harried chef, behind on orders in a packed restaurant, washing his hands fewer times than the law requires.
  2. Other times, the non-compliance is clearly and wholly intentional. Why? Because private profit has been put above public safety. In complicated chains of food supply, this regrettable phenomenon may occur more than once in a given infectious outbreak.

This was illustrated in a 1993 outbreak of E. coli poisoning that shook the prepared-food industry. The episode and a resulting lawsuit also illustrate how complex the liability issue can become in an E. coli case.

  • 1993 – Jack In The Box

Hamburger patties that health officials found caused multiple illnesses in several states were supplied to food server Jack in the Box from Washington-based food distributor Vons. So, although Jack in the Box acknowledged that its contract with Vons did not call for Vons to test meat for E. coli, the burger giant sued Vons, claiming that Vons held the liability for the E. coli poisonings.

Washington state health officials found that before the meat arrived at Vons, it already was contaminated at some earlier step – probably at a slaughterhouse. A 9-year-old Oak Harbor, Washington girl poisoned in the E. coli outbreak reached a $1.5 million settlement with multiple defendants: the Jack in the Box parent company, Vons, and several slaughterhouses.

In 1993, Jack in the Box had been cooking its hamburgers to an internal temperature of 140 degrees, then the federal standard. One year earlier, in 1992, Washington state had raised the minimum temperature for ground beef to 155 degrees, a regulation specifically intended to deal with E. coli.

Here are other examples of E. coli lawsuits:

  • 1998 – Finley School District

A Washington state school district argued it was not a seller of food under the law, and that therefore it was not at fault when students were infected with E. coli after eating undercooked meat in tacos. The families of 11 children sickened by E. coli bacteria from a school lunch were awarded $4.6 million.

  • 2006 – Trader Joe’s

A 2006 E. coli outbreak triggered by California spinach sold in bagged salad by Trader Joe’s markets forced regulators to act. Trader Joe’s markets had to defend a suit brought over its “Willamette Valley” brand of bagged salad leaves, which turned out to include spinach grown hundreds of miles from the Willamette, in central California’s San Benito County agribusiness region.

Acting voluntarily but under pressure from the federal Food and Drug Administration, in 2007 companies handling approximately 99 percent of California leafy greens signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. They agreed to comply with mandatory government audits to verify compliance with accepted food-safety practices. The Arizona leafy-greens agribusiness now has a similar arrangement.

  • 2013 – Vegetables grown near cattle operations – E. coli-tainted storm runoff

Along with ground beef, packaged salad greens have a high-profile history as culprit in E. coli cases. Beef and dairy cattle infect lettuce, spinach, and other greens – cases are recorded where storm runoff water transferred E. coli bacteria from a cattle pasture to a nearby vegetable field.

  • 2013 – Cows: Not just the meat – the milk, too

Any time cattle are involved in the making of a food product, consumers must use caution. Cow’s milk can easily become contaminated with E. coli, and so most milk product is heated – pasteurized – to a kill temperature for E. coli. Some people prefer raw milk – immune systems in particularly robust people can allow them to drink raw milk safely. Still, a Tennessee dairy infected several people with E. coli in its raw milk, and then had to rely on a legal loophole to avoid liability. Read more about: Tennessee E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Raw Milk Dairy.

  • 2014 – Jimmy John’s

In December 2014, a case against a nationally popular sandwich maker revealed that cucumbers imported from Mexico had sickened 9 sandwich patrons with E. coli poisoning. Production methods for the tainted cucumbers were not governed by the U.S.’s HACCP regulatory system. Previously among vegetables, alfalfa sprouts have been a frequent culprit in E. coli cases, at least 5 such cases coming against Jimmy John’s.

Contact us today by calling 877-928-9147 if you have any questions or would like a free consultation on your Oregon E. coli claim.

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