2008 Current and Emerging Trends in Foodborne Illness Litigation with Bill Marler


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Marler Clark Managing PartnerBill Marler's 2008 ACI conference presentation about trends in foodborne illness litigation

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2008 Current and Emerging Trends in Foodborne Illness Litigation with Bill Marler

  1. 2. The Legal Standard: Strict Liability <ul><ul><li>Strict Liability Is Liability Without Regard To Fault. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The focus is on the product; not the conduct </li></ul><ul><li>They are liable if: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The product was unsafe </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The product caused the injury </li></ul></ul>
  2. 3. Who is a Manufacturer? <ul><li>A “manufacturer” is defined as a “product seller who designs, produces, makes, fabricates, constructs, or remanufactures the relevant product or component part of a product before its sale to a user or consumer….” </li></ul><ul><li>RCW 7.72.010(2); see also Washburn v. Beatt Equipment Co ., 120 Wn.2d 246 (1992) </li></ul>
  3. 4. It’s called STRICT Liability for a Reason <ul><li>The only defense is prevention </li></ul><ul><li>Wishful thinking does not help </li></ul><ul><li>If they manufacture a product that causes someone to be sick they are going to pay IF they get caught </li></ul>
  4. 5. Negligence The legal standard applied to non-manufacturers The reason for excluding non-manufacturing retailers from strict liability is to distinguish between those who have actual control over the product and those who act as mere conduits in the chain of distribution. See Butello v. S.A. Woods-Yates Am. Mach. Co., 72 Wn. App. 397, 404 (1993).
  5. 6. Causation – Science <ul><ul><li>“ Causation is an essential concept in epidemiology, yet there is no single, clearly articulated definition ….” J Epidemiol Community Health 2001Dec;55(12):905-12; Parascandola M, Weed DL. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Confidence Interval (CI) – Range within which 95% of times the true value of the estimated association lies (95% CI) </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. Causation – The Law <ul><li>“ A proximate cause of an injury is a cause which, in natural and continuous sequence, produces the injury, and without which the injury would not have [ likely ] occurred. The concept of proximate causation has given courts and commentators consummate difficulty and has in truth defied precise definition.” </li></ul><ul><li>Prosser, Torts , pp. 311-313 </li></ul>
  7. 8. Lettuce and Spinach <ul><li>19 E. coli outbreaks since 1995 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>409 reported illnesses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>two deaths </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Fresh or fresh-cut lettuce or spinach implicated as outbreak vehicle </li></ul><ul><li>8 outbreaks traced back to produce from Salinas, California </li></ul>
  8. 9. 2006 Wendy’s E. coli Outbreak <ul><li>Utah - June 2006 </li></ul><ul><li>E. coli O21:H19 – only 3 culture-positive cases, although over 50 cases probable </li></ul><ul><li>3 HUS, 2 adult women,1 with 30 days, the other with 4 months of dialysis </li></ul><ul><li>Likely lettuce from California </li></ul>
  9. 10. Dole Lettuce E. coli Outbreak Summary <ul><li>23 laboratory-confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7; 7 epi linked cases </li></ul><ul><li>Sept. 16 to Sept. 30 onset </li></ul><ul><li>2 cases of HUS </li></ul><ul><li>Cases in MN, OR, and WI </li></ul><ul><li>Statistically associated with eating Dole pre- packaged lettuce </li></ul><ul><li>“ Smoking Gun” – found in bag </li></ul>
  10. 11. Dole and Natural Selections – Fall 2006 <ul><li>204 persons infected with outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 from 26 states. </li></ul><ul><li>102 (51%) hospitalized </li></ul><ul><li>31 (16%) developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) </li></ul><ul><li>Three confirmed deaths </li></ul>
  11. 12. Dole and Natural Selections – Fall 2006 <ul><li>E. coli O157:H7 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Isolated from 13 packages of DOLE spinach </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ DNA fingerprints ” of all 13 match the outbreak strain </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Supplied by patients living in 10 states </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Eleven packages with lot codes consistent with a single manufacturing facility on a particular day </li></ul></ul>
  12. 13. Spinach Aerial Map
  13. 14. Taco E. coli Litigation Status <ul><li>To date 12 lawsuits filed in Courts in 5 States </li></ul><ul><li>Taco Bell and Ready-Pac </li></ul><ul><li>Taco John’s and Bix </li></ul><ul><li>Lettuce supplier to Bix - Outbreak PFGE found on nearby Farm </li></ul>
  14. 15. 2006-2007 Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak <ul><li>CDC Figures as of March 7, 2007 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>714 culture-positive illnesses from 44 states </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>71 hospitalized </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Illnesses reported August 1, 2006 to present </li></ul></ul>
  15. 16. <ul><li>Marler Math </li></ul><ul><ul><li>CDC estimates that over 30 times the number of confirmed cases are never reported. Likely number of cases from peanut butter: </li></ul></ul>30 x 714 = 21,420 2006-2007 Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak
  16. 17. Pot Pies <ul><li>272 isolates of Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- with an indistinguishable genetic fingerprint have been collected from ill persons in 35 states. To date, three of these patients’ pot pies have yielded Salmonella I4,[5],12:i:- isolates with a genetic fingerprint indistinguishable from the outbreak pattern </li></ul>
  17. 18. Outbreaks Linked To Unpasteurized Milk <ul><li>1994 – 18 ill with E. coli O157:H7 – “pasteurized” milk </li></ul><ul><li>1998 – 55 ill with E. coli O157:H7 – “fresh” cheese curds </li></ul><ul><li>2001 – 75 ill with Campylobacter – raw milk </li></ul><ul><li>2003 – 62 ill with Salmonella – raw milk </li></ul><ul><li>2005 – 18 ill with E. coli O157:H7 – raw milk </li></ul><ul><li>2006 – 27 ill with Campylobacter – raw milk </li></ul><ul><li>2006 – 2 ill with Campylobacter – raw milk </li></ul>
  18. 19. Related Issues <ul><li>Comparative fault </li></ul><ul><li>Releases and Waivers </li></ul><ul><li>Trade association liability </li></ul><ul><li>Cow share arrangements </li></ul>
  19. 20. Examples of Comparative Fault <ul><li>Consumer milks the cow and fails to follow sanitary measures </li></ul><ul><li>Consumer fails to refrigerate the raw milk </li></ul><ul><li>Consumer aware of risk and ignores it </li></ul>
  20. 21. Releases and Liability Waivers <ul><li>Are they enforceable? </li></ul><ul><li>If so, what’s the effect? </li></ul>
  21. 22. Hamburger – It’s Back <ul><li>In 2007 - 21 recalls, ground beef companies have recalled more than 33 million pounds of E. coli O157:H7-contaminated meat </li></ul>
  22. 23. Bill Marler Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm 1301 Second Avenue, Suite 2800 Seattle, WA 98101-3808 (206) 346-1888