In April, The Oklahoma State Health Department (OHD) published its final report on a massive outbreak of E. coli 0111 linked to the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, Oklahoma. E. coli O111, one of the family of E. coli bacteria, is classified as an STEC, a shiga toxin producing escherichia coli. In other words, it is, like E. coli O157:H7, pathogenic to humans and carries the potential to cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
The findings of the report also help illustrate an important legal point about the work we do at Marler Clark. Despite a thorough investigation, OHD was not able to pinpoint the particular food source or sources that caused the 341 documented cases of E. coli O111. "It could not be conclusively determined how E. coli O111 was introduced into the restaurant." The OHD looked at a number of possibilities for the "original" source of the contamination – tainted well water; an infected food worker; contaminated food.
From a legal standpoint, not being able to identify the "original" source of the infection is irrelevant to the customers claims against the restaurant. Following a doctrine called "strict liabilty" an injured customer simply has to prove that a restaurant meal caused his or her illness. It is not necessary that the claimant be able to trace an illness to the mashed potatoes as opposed to the gravy. In Oklahoma, the rule of "strict liability" is laid out in the case of Kirkland v. Gen. Motors, Corp (1974), but for all intents and purposes, the rule would apply anywhere in the U.S.