Marler Clark, a law firm specializing in cases related to foodborne illness, has filed five lawsuits in response to the deadly E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma region of Arizona. As of May 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm there have been 149 reported cases of E. coli in 29 states. One death has occurred as a result of the outbreak, and 64 patients have been hospitalized. Of those, 17 have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome.
The first lawsuit was filed against Freshway Inc., supplier of Panera Bread in New Jersey. Marler Clark is pursuing an additional suit against Freshway, as well as two against Red Lobster in Arizona. A fifth lawsuit against California restaurant Papa Murphy’s is currently in the works.
Marler Clark is representing 64 of the 149 victims of the outbreak, 10 of whom suffered hemolytic-uremic syndrome.
“Several of the clients who have hired us are kids or adults who were on dialysis, endured blood transfusions, neurological problems, seizures,” Bill Marler, managing partner at Marler Clark, told The Daily Meal. “A lot of people think experiencing a food-borne illness isn’t a big deal, but E. coli O157:H7 is a deadly pathogen.”
Marler spoke to us by phone while visiting South Africa, where he is consulting on a Listeria outbreak that has affected at least 1,000 people and killed 200. Marler has been working on cases related to foodborne illnesses since 1993, when Jack in the Box, in one of the worst food poisoning outbreaks in history, was sued for an E. coli outbreak linked to hamburgers that killed 4 people, all of them children.
“I’m getting old now,” Marler said, “But we’ve been involved in every major and most minor foodborne outbreak throughout the United States.”
The firm has sued the known supplier of the infected romaine from Panera Bread, but does not yet know the supplier of the lettuce that sickened customers of Red Lobster and Papa Murphy’s.
“We hope to get them to tell us who made their salads, and get them involved in the lawsuit,” Marler said. “The goal here is to move back upstream to get to the bottom of where the contamination occurred.”
After finding the supplier, the firm can find the farm. After finding the farm, the firm hopes to identify the source. In tandem with the Food and Drug Adminsitration’s investigation, Marler Clark is conducting an investigation of its own.
“The FDA has said that it’s from romaine grown in Yuma, but we don’t really know what caused the outbreak,” explained Marler. “If you don’t know what caused it, you can’t prevent the next one.”
The firm was successful in finding the source of a similar outbreak in 2006, which affected spinach and killed 5 people.
“Wild pigs broke down a fence and did their business in a spinach field,” Marler recalled. “The spinach was then harvested and shipped across the country. We shouldn’t be having an outbreak like this now, 12 years later.”
A representative from Red Lobster told The Daily Meal, “The health and safety of our guests is important to us, which is why we take food safety very seriously. Since this is an open legal matter, I can’t share any additional information at this time.” Panera Bread has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The Daily Meal has reached out to Papa Murphy’s for their comment, as well.
While ongoing lawsuits and federal investigations attempt to find the source of the E. coli outbreak affecting romaine, consumers can follow the FDA’s advice and avoid eating all romaine lettuce from the Yuma region. Consumers can also continue to follow these simple tips for avoiding food poisoning.