Marler Clark, the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of foodborne illness, filed a lawsuit yesterday against New York-based Forever Cheese, the importer of Listeria-contaminated Marte brand Frescolina ricotta salata cheese that federal public health officials have determined is the source of a 15-person Listeria outbreak. The lawsuit, which also names Washington state-based cheese distributor Peterson Company as a defendant, was filed in King County Superior Court (Case No. 12-2-30957-4 SEA) on behalf of Seattle resident Merrill West Behnke.

The complaint alleges that Ms. Behnke consumed ricotta salata cheese on August 25, 2012 and fell ill with the first symptom of Listeria infection, a headache, on August 28. Ms. Behnke’s attorneys state that she began experiencing severe neck and back pains accompanied by a 102 degree fever, at which point her husband took her to an urgent care clinic, where after a lumbar puncture and CT scan she was diagnosed with meningitis. According to the complaint, although serum from a lumbar puncture the day of her admission tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes bacteria one week into her hospitalization, Ms. Behnke spent part of the 2 weeks she was hospitalized in the intensive care unit while physicians attempted to find the right antibiotic treatment regimen to combat her infection.

Ms. Behnke was discharged from the hospital on September 13 and has continued to receive antibiotics 6 times daily since her discharge. According to the complaint, the Listeria bacteria isolated from Ms. Behnke’s serum sample was genetically indistinguishable from the strain isolated from Marte brand Frescolina ricotta salata cheese.

BACKGROUND: Bill Marler and his law firm, Marler Clark, have represented thousands of victims of foodborne illness since the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak. The lawyers at Marler Clark have brought lawsuits on behalf of victims of Listeria outbreaks traced to cheese, milk, cantaloupes, and other foods. The law firm currently represents 44 families with members who became ill with Listeria infections after eating contaminated cantaloupe grown by Jensen Farms in 2011 and a child born prematurely in connection with this recent Marte brand Frescolina ricotta salata cheese Listeria outbreak.