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Lawsuit filed against Crossroads Farm on behalf of four E. coli victims

December 17 2004

Children who visited petting zoo became ill with E. coli infections after attending North Carolina State Fair

RALEIGH, NC – Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally known for its representation of E. coli victims, and Mark Kurdys, a well respected Asheville, NC attorney, will file a lawsuit today (Friday) in Wake County Superior Court against Jason and Ralph Wilkie, owners and operators of the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo, the petting zoo linked to an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at the North Carolina State Fair in October. The lawsuit will be filed on behalf of four children who suffered from E. coli infections after visiting the Crossroads Farm petting zoo at the State Fair.

Plaintiffs are Lee County residents Timothy and Kellie Baldwin and their three-year-old son, Matthew; Harnett County residents Jayson and Wendy Ennis and their three-year-old son, Chad; and Jackson County residents Keith and Jennifer Chauvin and their children, three-year-old Cameron, and 17-month-old, Luke, who both developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (see http://www.about-hus.com), a complication of E. coli infection that that causes renal failure. Medical bills exceed $100,000.

“Twenty-four outbreaks have been linked to fairs and petting zoos since 1995,” said plaintiffs’ attorney William Marler (See http://www.fair-safety.com). “Any operator of a petting zoo should be well-versed in the ways of preventing E. coli infections among their patrons, and should have procedures in place to do just that. At this petting zoo, procedures were woefully inadequate to prevent an outbreak.”

Approximately 106 people became sick after visiting the petting zoo at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh during what became the largest E. coli outbreak in North Carolina state history. According to the lawsuit, Crossroads Farm failed to exercise reasonable care and to give adequate warnings to the parents to protect their children from that danger.

The complaint cites the outbreak report released on December 16 by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which stated, “Many activities in the Crossroads Farm Petting zoo were associated with illness.” Nineteen of thirty environmental specimens from the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo were positive for E. coli O157:H7 and all had the same genetic fingerprint as the patterns seen from 33 case-patients’ cultures.

“A recent study showed that animals at fairs and petting zoos can carry the same or a greater percentage of E. coli O157:H7 than animals at feed lots,” Marler continued. “The owners of feed lots know the percentages, and they certainly aren’t letting kids come in and play, so until petting zoo operators clean up, why should they be allowed to put our kids’ health at risk?”

In 2001 the CDC suggested a number of ways to prevent just this thing from happening again. They included:

  • Persons providing public access to farm animals should inform visitors about the risk for transmission of enteric pathogens from farm animals to humans, as well as strategies for prevention of such transmission. This should include public information and training of facility staff. Visitors should be made aware that certain farm animals pose greater risk for transmitting enteric infections to humans than others. Such animals include calves and other young ruminant animals, young poultry, and ill animals.
  • Venues should be designed to minimize risk. Farm animal contact is not appropriate at food service establishments and infant care settings, and special care should be taken with school-aged children. At venues where farm animal contact is desired, layout should provide a separate area where humans and animals interact and an area where animals are not allowed. Animal petting should occur only in the interaction area to facilitate close supervision and coaching of visitors. Clear separation methods such as double barriers should be present to prevent contact with animals and their environment other than in the interaction area.
  • Hand washing facilities should be adequate. Hand washing stations should be available to both the animal-free area and the interaction area. Running water, soap, and disposable towels should be available so that visitors can wash their hands immediately after contact with the animals. Hand washing facilities should be accessible, sufficient for the maximum anticipated attendance, and configured for use by children and adults. Children aged <5 years should wash their hands with adult supervision. Staff training and posted signs should emphasize the need to wash hands after touching animals or their environment, before eating, and on leaving the interaction area. Communal basins do not constitute adequate hand washing facilities.
  • Persons at high risk for serious infections should observe heightened precaution. Farm animals should be handled by everyone as if the animals are colonized with human enteric pathogens. However, children aged <5 years, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised persons (e.g., those with HIV/AIDS) are at higher risk for serious infections. Such persons should weigh the risks for contact with farm animals. If allowed to have contact, children aged <5 years should be supervised closely by adults, with precautions strictly enforced.
### BACKGROUND: William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million E. coli settlement with Jack in the Box. In 1998, the families of five children who were injured as part of the Odwalla E. coli outbreak settled claims for a reported $12 million. In 2003, the Washington Supreme Court declined to review last year’s Court of Appeals decision upholding a $4.6 million award to 11 children injured in a 1998 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that was linked to undercooked taco meat served as part of a school lunch at Finley Elementary School. Marler Clark represented eleven children against the school district both at trial and on appeal. Total recoveries exceed $200 million. The partners at Marler Clark speak frequently on issues of safe food through OutBreak, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to training companies on how to avoid bacterial diseases. Mr. Marler, who represented 29 victims of the 2002 Lane County, Oregon, fair E. coli outbreak that sickened 82 people, recently spoke to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions at their annual meeting in Las Vegas, NV about the dangers of petting zoos. More about the North Carolina fair E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.

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