A Federal District Court Judge in Iowa today denied Quality Egg (DeCoster)’s attempt to throw out the claims for punitive damages of six individuals sickened in last summer’s Salmonella outbreak. Punitives Ruling.pdf
Punitive damages are extraordinary damages awarded in addition to compensatory damages where there is evidence that a defendant acted with actual or legal malice. Under Iowa law, this is “an unreasonable act ‘in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow.'”
The ruling is not an award of punitive damages, but does allow those claims to move forward over the company’s objections. The plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages were based upon allegations of ongoing deplorable conditions at the plant, including findings of the FDA’s investigation of its Iowa plant, as reported in the Form 483.
In addition, the plaintiffs made the following allegations concerning the DeCoster’s ongoing deficiencies:
- ….the defendant has a long history of wanton and willful disregard for the rights and safety of those who purchase and consume its egg products. Beginning in 1982, egg production facilities owned and operated by Austin J. DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, have been repeatedly linked to outbreaks of Salmonella illnesses, including Salmonella enteritidis outbreaks. According to a report in the New York Times, these outbreaks include:
- In 1982, approximately 36 people were sickened, and one person died, in an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis traced to an egg production facility owned and operated by Mr. DeCoster.
- Eggs from the same DeCoster owned facility were suspected as the source of a simultaneous outbreak in Massachusetts that sickened 400 people.
- In 1987, nine people died and roughly 500 were sickened in an outbreak of
- Salmonella enteritidis in New York City by eggs produced by farms owned and operated by Mr. DeCoster.
- In 1992, eggs from Mr. DeCoster’s farm in Maryland were the source of a Salmonella outbreak in Connecticut.
- Numerous state and local regulatory agencies—including New York and Maryland—have either banned, quarantined or otherwise limited the sale of eggs from egg production facilities operated by Mr. DeCoster.
The plaintiffs’ punitive damage allegations also include the following:
Records of environmental sample reports from the defendant’s facility in and around Galt Iowa from between 2008 and 2010 indicate that Wright County Egg received 426 positive results for Salmonella, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella enteritidis. The testing included 66 positive samples for Salmonella on May 27, 2010 alone. The defendant was aware of the continued presence of Salmonella, including Salmonella enteritidis, on its grounds, in its equipment, and likely in its egg products, but willfully and wantonly refused to take corrective action.
The claims will now continue to move through the litigation process toward trial.