It’s a story that appears in the news fairly regularly: A commercial food product such as prepared salad kits or unpasteurized juice was contaminated with E. coli, causing dozens of people to get sick.
While most people have heard of these cases, many need to better understand what E. coli is and what causes E. coli infections. Even worse: If they get sick with E. coli food poisoning and suffer unexpected complications, many people don’t know who to turn to or how to receive compensation for medical expenses, missed work, and the psychological impact of their illness.
You may file a product liability claim against the manufacturer of a food product contaminated with E. coli. However, you need years of education and experience in personal injury law to know how or where to file the claim. This is one of many reasons you need a lawyer for an E. coli food poisoning case. Reach out to a Minnesota food poisoning lawyer.
What Is E. Coli?
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a large, diverse group of bacteria often found in human and animal digestive tracts. While many strains of E. coli are harmless and a sign of a healthy gut, other strains of the bacteria can result in many illnesses, including diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
Certain strains of E. coli produce Shiga toxin, which is most commonly the culprit of E. coli infections that produce stomach issues, including diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. This type of E. coli is commonly referred to as “STEC.” As reported by CNN, about 265,000 people contract Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections in the U.S. each year.
What Causes E. Coli Infections?
The Cleveland Clinic notes that E. coli infections generally occur as a result of eating food or drinking water that the E. coli bacteria have contaminated.
Some common E. coli-contaminated food includes:
- Meats contaminated during the slaughtering process when the animal’s intestines come in contact with the meat.
- Unpasteurized milk contaminated by the bacteria from the cow’s udder or unsanitized milking equipment.
- Unpasteurized fruit juices that come in contact with the bacteria from animals raised near where farmers grow fruit.
- Untreated water contaminated by human or animal feces.
E. coli infections are diagnosed by examining the infected person’s feces in the laboratory, and laboratories can detect multiple strains of E. coli. If the stool sample confirms E. coli poisoning, the illness will be reported to the state health department, which will review the patient’s food history. Sometimes, multiple people will suffer infections from the same source, and the health department will declare an outbreak.
What Health Effects are Caused by E. Coli Food Poisoning?
E. coli infections typically occur within three or four days after the infected person has consumed something contaminated by the bacteria. Those with infections from Shiga toxin-producing strains commonly experience symptoms that include stomach cramps, diarrhea that is watery or even bloody in some cases, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and a low fever.
Fortunately, many people who become ill with an E. coli infection will recover within five to seven days. However, for others, the infection can lead to serious health concerns. Young children and older adults are most likely to suffer complications from the infection. The Minnesota Department of Health notes that the infection can severely damage kidneys and intestinal linings.
Additionally, the sufferer may contract hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes the bacteria’s toxins to enter the bloodstream, destroying red blood cells and damaging the kidneys. Children under five most commonly experience this complication.
Why You Need a Lawyer to Help You Seek Compensation for E. Coli Food Poisoning
Manufacturers and suppliers of food products have the legal responsibility to ensure that the products they make available to consumers are safe for human consumption and free of harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. Despite several state and federal regulatory agencies with regulations and rules to prevent unsafe products from reaching consumers, it can be challenging for someone to know where or when they were exposed to the bacteria.
E. coli food poisoning can give rise to a product liability claim in two scenarios:
- An individual (or many individuals) contracted an E. coli infection after consuming food in a restaurant where there were unsafe food handling processes, or the food was not cooked well enough to destroy the bacteria.
- Many individuals become ill with E. coli infections after consuming a product they purchased through the grocery store, such as a fresh salad kit that was found to contain the bacteria.
When a restaurant staff’s unsafe food handling causes a foodborne illness such as an E. coli infection, the injured party can seek compensation by filing a claim against the restaurant’s business policy. However, when the source of the infection was a contaminated product from the grocery store, many others likely suffered infections from the same product. When state health departments detect an outbreak, they may recall the product, and those who suffered expenses can take legal action.
Claims filed against manufacturers for defective or dangerous products often impact several people and result in mass litigation. Mass litigation involves many cases that feature the same complaints against the same defendant being joined for the duration of the trial or the discovery phase of the trial before being returned to their jurisdictions for settlement or trial.
In other words: E. coli food poisoning cases are usually very complex. There is strict liability in defective product claims, meaning the claimant and their attorney are not required to prove that the contamination resulted from negligence by the manufacturer, only that the infection came from a specific product manufactured by that company.
The type of evidence used to prove this involves showing the genome culture that the health department used to study the bacteria. However, that is not the most difficult aspect of having a successful E. coli food poisoning claim.
The most difficult part of the process is that the large manufacturing companies that make unsafe food available for consumers have deep pockets, high-powered insurance providers, and equally high-powered defense attorneys.
A claimant who attempts to go up against the company to obtain compensation for the financial and emotional impacts of their illness without an attorney will find themselves at a loss as to how to file a claim, how to find the evidence, and how to take the claim to court if the company or their insurer does not pay their claim. An experienced product liability lawyer provides the necessary experience to fight for the compensation you need.
What Your Attorney Needs to Prove for You to Win Your Case
Most personal injury claims involve showing how someone’s carelessness or recklessness caused someone else to be injured. For example, car accident claims are based on who caused the accident. Slip and fall claims involve showing that the owner or manager of a property was negligent in their care and maintenance, leading to an accident in which someone was injured.
As previously noted, strict liability claims do not require the claimant to prove that the manufacturer knew or had reason to know that they were putting an unsafe product in consumers’ hands (or mouths).
Your lawyer proves strict liability by showing:
- The product consumed by the claimant contained E. coli bacteria.
- The claimant suffered an E. coli infection due to consuming the contaminated product.
- The product was unreasonably dangerous due to the contamination that made the claimant ill.
The Services a Lawyer Can Provide to Assist You With Your Claim
While food poisoning claims are incredibly difficult to prove for those without an attorney, a lawyer with experience with this type of claim and a legal team to gather documents make the process relatively straightforward.
To navigate the product liability claims process for you, a lawyer can:
- Gather documentation about your culture from the health department.
- Establish a value to your claim that includes compensation not only for the expenses of your illness but the impact that complications from an E. coli infection have had on your quality of life.
- File your claim with the company or with their insurer.
- Manage communications with the company’s insurer or attorney about your claim to protect the claim’s value and negotiate a settlement agreement that will provide you with fair compensation.
- Manage the timeline of your claim so that there is time to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.
- Help you to join a class action or multidistrict litigation with others who have also suffered illness due to an E. coli outbreak.
- Present your claim in court so that a judge or jury can understand the significant impacts of your illness.
- Collect your compensation.
Because an attorney plays such a crucial role in your ability to obtain the compensation you need after becoming ill from E. coli food poisoning, product liability lawyers provide their services on a contingent fee basis. This means that payment for the work they do on your case depends on your successful claim outcome. If no compensation is received for your claim, you do not owe your legal team for their services.
What Kind of Lawyer Can Help With an E. Coli Food Poisoning Case?
The type of lawyer who can assist someone with filing a product liability claim after they’ve suffered food poisoning is a personal injury lawyer with experience in product liability claims. When seeking an attorney to assist you with your claim, they must have experience in negotiating settlements and a winning trial record.
The Type of Compensation Available through a Food Poisoning Claim
The complications of E. coli infections can be debilitating, causing the sufferer to miss work and seek medical treatment. These complications can linger far longer than the five to seven days the infection takes to run its course.
Those who have suffered an E. coli infection due to a manufactured or pre-packaged food product can seek compensation for the expenses of their illness, including the costs of their medical treatment, the wages that they missed when they were too sick to work, and even a permanent loss of future earning capacity. Reach out to a Minnesota defective product liability lawyer.
Claimants can also seek compensation for their illness’s impacts on their life, such as physical pain and suffering or emotional distress. Those wishing to file an E. coli food poisoning claim must save the documents that prove their illness, such as an official diagnosis from the doctor and any information received from the health department about their stool sample.
Additionally, they should hang on to documents that can be used to justify the claim’s value, such as medical bills and employer information showing the earnings the claimant lost while sick with E. coli.