The plaintiffs are suing Lynden School District, the Northwest Washington Fair Association, and Whatcom County Dairy Women after children contract E. coli at annual event.
Three Whatcom County families are suing Lynden School District, the Northwest Washington Fair Association, and Whatcom County Dairy Women after an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in April 2015, infected and hospitalized their children. Amy Hayes-Shaw and Craig Shaw and their son Toby Hager, Elizabeth and Palmer Myers and their children Halle and Palmer Jr., and Amanda and Chad Neiser and their children Bennet, Macy, and Selah filed a lawsuit Monday for damages caused by their subsequent illnesses. The plaintiffs are represented by food safety advocate William D. Marler, managing attorney at Marler Clark LLP, the Food Safety Law Firm, based in Seattle. FILED COMPLAINT.
On Monday, April 20, 15-year-old Toby Hager and other students volunteered to help set up a hay maze and move bleachers at the Milk Maker’s Festival. The hay bales for the maze had been stored in the Dairy Barn, and the maze itself was set up next to the compost bunkers; meanwhile, the bleachers had been used ten days earlier for the Whatcom Youth Fair dairy cattle exhibition. It was later found that these areas were contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. When Toby tried to wash his hands after completing work, he found only an empty hand sanitizer dispenser. Students were not advised to wash their hands or take precautions before eating, and were given refreshments with no opportunity to clean up.
During the next three days, from April 21-23, at least 1,325 first-grade students visited the Festival, along with teachers and parents, on field trips coordinated by schools within the Lynden School District.. Among the children were Palmer Myers Jr. and Macy Neiser, students at Bernice Vossbeck Elementary. Neither Palmer nor Macy were required to wash their hands while attending the festival, petting animals, visiting the Dairy Barn, or before eating lunch. Of the 103 students interviewed by the Whatcom County Health Department in their investigation, only 49% recalled being told to wash their hands after animal contact. Only 29% recalled being told not to eat or drink in an animal area.
In total, 25 patients were confirmed as having contracted E. coli O157:H7 from the Milk Maker’s Festival. Nine of these were considered secondary cases, meaning they became infected through contact with someone already infected. Ten of the 25 were hospitalized, and 6 developed HUS.
This incident joins an increasingly long list of E. coli outbreaks traced back to petting zoos with insufficient preventative health measures. “Outbreaks like this shouldn’t happen,” says Bill Marler, the premier food safety attorney in the US and representative for the plaintiffs. “Had the organizations responsible followed common-sense protocols, these families would not be experiencing the trauma of an E. coli infection.” He recommends taking definitive steps to limit the chances that you or your child could get sick, including educating petting zoo visitors on the hazards presented by even healthy animals, encouraging and supervising thorough hand-washing, and limiting contact for at-risk groups, such as children under 5, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
An estimated 73,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 occur each year in the United States. Approximately 2,000 people are hospitalized, and 60 people die as a direct result of E. coli O157:H7 infections and complications, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and kidney failure. Symptoms of E. coli include the sudden onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed by watery, sometimes bloody, diarrhea. Vomiting can also occur, but there is usually no fever.
A severe, life-threatening complication of E. coli O157:H7 is Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Although most people recover from this infection, about 5-10% of infected individuals goes on to develop HUS. E. coli O157:H7 is responsible for over 90% of the cases of HUS that develop in North America. To learn more about HUS, please visit http://www.about-hus.com.
Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The E. coli lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation, and has litigated E. coli and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products. The law firm has brought E. coli lawsuits against such companies as Jack in the Box, Dole, ConAgra, Cargill, and Jimmy John’s.