An E. coli lawsuit was filed against Dole late Thursday in United States District Court for the District of Oregon. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gwyn Wellborn, a Salem, Oregon woman who became ill with an E. coli O157:H7 infection after eating Dole brand baby spinach. Ms. Wellborn and her husband, David, are represented by Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm that has represented hundreds of victims E. coli outbreaks, including victims of last fall’s E. coli outbreak traced to Dole brand lettuce.
The lawsuit alleges that Mrs. Wellborn purchased Dole brand baby spinach on August 21, 2006 and consumed the spinach in salads over several days during the week of August 21 through August 25. Ms. Wellborn became ill with symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection, including diarrhea and stomach cramping, on August 25.
Her symptoms continued to worsen, and Mr. Wellborn took his wife to the emergency room at Salem Hospital in the early morning hours of August 27. Ms. Wellborn was treated and released, but was admitted to Salem Hospital after a second visit to the emergency room at midday on the 27th. She remained hospitalized at Salem Hospital for six days, and was transferred to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland on September 2 after being diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). While at OHSU, Ms. Wellborn required at least four blood transfusions and eight plasmapheresis exchanges. She was discharged from OHSU on September 8, and continues her recovery at home.
“The FDA and the fresh produce industry have been working to resolve the issue of E. coli contamination for a number of years,” said William Marler, attorney for the Wellborns. “It is unfortunate that outbreaks continue to happen and that consumers continue to be injured as a result.”
Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome is a frightening illness that even in the best American medical facilities has a mortality rate of about 5%. About 50% of patients require dialysis due to kidney failure, 25% experience seizures, and 5% suffer from diabetes mellitus. The majority of HUS patients requires transfusion of blood products and develops complications common to the critically ill. Among survivors of HUS, about five percent will eventually develop end stage kidney disease, with the resultant need for dialysis or transplantation, and another five to ten percent experience neurological or pancreatic problems which significantly impair quality of life.