Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed in Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Peanut Corporation of America

(BUSINESS WIRE)--The sudden and unexpected death of a Minnesota woman who fell victim to a nationwide Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak has prompted a wrongful death lawsuit against Virginia-based Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) -- a maker of bulk peanut butter and peanut paste.

Fred Pritzker, founder and president of national food safety law firm Pritzker | Olsen, P.A., filed the complaint Monday in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis for the heirs and of Shirley Mae Almer, 72, of Perham, Minnesota: Jeffrey Almer as trustee of the heirs of Shirley Mae Almer v. Peanut Corporation of America, a Virginia business entity and King Nut Companies, an Ohio business entity.

King Nut Companies is an Ohio-based firm that allegedly distributed the contaminated peanut butter that came out of PCA's plant in Blakely, Georgia, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, the product was delivered to a nursing home in Brainerd, Minnesota, where Mrs. Almer was temporarily residing.

The complaint alleges that her death on December 21 was a direct result of consuming peanut butter that contained the same genetic strain of Salmonella that has sickened more than 500 other people in 43 states. On January 13, the FDA announced that PCA initiated a recall that included the product that had been served to Mrs. Almer.

"This is a very large and significant recall," Pritzker said. "It points to a number of vulnerabilities in our food safety system that require legislation and funding to correct. Consumers should feel concerned and demand a significant overhaul."

The complaint alleges negligence on behalf of PCA and King Nut for failure to train and properly supervise peanut butter production workers and other employees; failure to safely produce, store and transport its products; failure to maintain sanitary conditions during and after production; failure to prevent cross-contamination and failure to properly test its products, as well as other acts of negligence.

The complaint also alleges that PCA and King Nut are negligent per se for failing to comply with Minn. Stat. Chapter 31 and 21 USC Sec. 331.

The complaint also makes a claim for damages under the doctrine of strict liability.

Pritzker said Mrs. Almer was the "canary in a coal mine" whose death helped lead health investigators to the plant in South Georgia. Now federal officials view the PCA plant as the outbreak's lone, known source.

According to the complaint, Mrs. Almer's children were notified January 6 that she died with a Salmonella infection. Days later, the Minnesota departments of health and agriculture traced the problem to a five-pound pail of King Nut creamy peanut butter that had been in use at the nursing home.

Pritzker said grieving family members were angered to learn that the peanut butter served to Mrs. Almer contained the same deadly pathogen associated with hundreds of Salmonella infections since mid-September.

Mrs. Almer, who grew up in New York Mills, Minnesota, still owned a bowling alley in Wadena. She had survived two bouts with cancer in recent years and was cancer free when she was sickened with Salmonella. Just before she became ill, family members were planning to take her out of the nursing home. Instead, she became so sick from the bacteria that she was taken to a hospital, where she died.

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