Third Lawsuit Filed Against Oklahoma Eatery Over E. Coli Outbreak

October 2, 2009

Attorneys for 14 people sickened by an August 2008 outbreak of E. coli have filed a lawsuit seeking more than $3 million from the operators of a Locust Grove restaurant where the bacteria originated.

The complaint was filed in Mayes County District Court against the Country Cottage restaurant and its owners on behalf of 12 families. The plaintiffs are represented by Blevins Law Office Inc. of Pryor and Marler Clark, a Seattle, Wa.-based firm that specializes in food-borne illness litigation.

“These fourteen people collectively spent 250 days in the hospital, 84 of them on dialysis for kidney failure,” said William Marler, attorney for the families. “Their medical bills are almost $2 million, not to mention ongoing medical care that many will continue to need.

“Our job is to make sure that they don’t struggle to carry that immense burden by themselves.”

A spokeswoman for two of the restaurant’s owners, Kenneth and Linda Moore, said the couple declined comment, and a telephone message left with their attorney was not immediately returned.

According to a state Health Department report on the outbreak, 341 people were sickened by the bacteria, 70 were hospitalized and one died. An extensive investigation failed to determine how the bacteria was introduced into the restaurant.

This is the third lawsuit filed against the business related to the outbreak at the buffet-style eatery about 50 miles east of Tulsa. Cynthia Ingle, the widow of 26-year-old Chad Ingle, filed a wrongful death complaint in May, and another lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of a couple who ate there and became ill.

In the complaint filed Sept. 30, attorneys for the families contend the defendants failed to maintain sanitary conditions and enforce an effective hand-washing policy for employees, among other things.

“The defendants owed a duty to all persons who were their guests and customers at the Country Cottage restaurant to maintain its premises in a sanitary and safe condition so that no one eating at the restaurant, or purchasing food or drink from it, would be exposed to, or infected by, a potentially deadly pathogen,” the complaint states.

Along with payment of medical bills, the suit seeks attorneys fees and punitive damages.

The health department’s analysis of the outbreak suggests there was ongoing food-borne transmission of the bacteria at the Country Cottage from Aug. 15 to Aug. 24.

But the report said that since no specimen of the bacteria was found in the restaurant, investigators couldn’t determine how it was introduced or spread.

Food samples from the restaurant were examined and showed no signs of contamination, but officials said it was possible the tainted food had already been thrown out.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has suggested tainted well water may have been to blame for the outbreak. He is pursuing a federal lawsuit against Arkansas poultry companies, alleging chicken waste has polluted water supplies in the region.

Poultry companies have said there’s no evidence their industry is responsible for water pollution in the area.

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