The story has been told and re-told many times. Just one week before the first CDC-recognized case in the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak, the producer of the contaminated cantaloupes, Jensen Farms, was audited by a sub-contractor for Primus Labs. Jensen’s facility was given a “superior” rating. Over the ensuing three months, 30 people died and 139 people were sickened with confirmed illnesses (heaviest concentration shown in image at left). Many more were certainly sickened whose illnesses went unconfirmed, and the numbers will very likely climb even higher.
The picture of fault, in Bill Marler’s 8 lawsuits against the cantaloupes grower and distributor, is getting bigger as more details emerge. Tom Karst in The Packer today discussed the issue of auditor liability with Marler:
Targeting not only the supplier and distributor of tainted cantaloupes but also setting sights on Wal-Mart and auditor PrimusLabs, a prominent food safety lawyer has filed multiple lawsuits stemming from a listeria outbreak.
Seattle-based food safety lawyer Bill Marler has filed eight lawsuits related to the listeria outbreak, and is working on behalf of at least three dozen people sickened or killed in the outbreak health officials traced to Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo. Ten of those cases involve the estates of people whose deaths are linked to the outbreak
More lawsuits are expected, he said Nov. 8, including one naming Santa Barbara, Calif.-based PrimusLabs, which inspected the cantaloupe farm and facility.
In an e-mail, Robert Stovicek, president of Santa Maria, Calif.-based PrimusLabs, said he had no comment on the potential lawsuit.
Marler on Nov. 8 said seeking liability from a third-party auditor will be a hard-fought battle.
“I think they are not going to want to agree to that, because it would open themselves up for some pretty significant changes in the way they do business — for all auditors,” he said.
The lawsuit filed in Colorado for plaintiffs Charles and Tammy Palmer in September names Wal-Mart Inc. and Jensen Farms as defendants. Other lawsuits name Jensen Farms and Frontera, which distributed the cantaloupes.
Marler anticipates naming both Primus Labs and its subcontractor, Bio Food Safety, in a wrongful daeth lawsuit to be filed in New Mexico next week. His client, a 94 year old mother of two grown sons, lived independently and remained active (in fact, named her local library’s “patron of the year” this year) until the day she fell ill from Listeria cantaloupe.