A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Dole, claiming a Franklin County woman died after eating salad processed in its Springfield plant that shut down after a listeria contamination there.
The suit is at least the second claim filed against the company in relation to the outbreak and accuses the food processor of failing to put in a place a system to prevent the contamination.
Dole also filed a response Tuesday to the separate, earlier lawsuit, denying claims that it’s responsible for an incident in which a Warren County woman said her mother was left in a coma after eating salad tainted with listeria.
>>More coverage: FDA: Dole knew of listeria in Springfield plant before outbreak
Company officials declined comment Wednesday, citing pending litigation.
Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the outbreak affected at least 19 people in the U.S., including one man from Michigan who died. The Public Health Agency of Canada has also reported 14 cases in five provinces, including three deaths, although it hasn’t been determined if listeria contributed to the cause of those deaths.
The new lawsuit, filed in Clark County Common Pleas Court last week, says Ellen H. DiStefano, 79, became ill on Jan. 17 after eating a salad she bought in Belmont County that was packaged in Springfield. She was taken to a hospital, diagnosed with an infection caused by the listeria monocytogenes bacteria and died on Feb. 27.
“Ellen died of complications from listeriosis just four months before her 60th wedding anniversary,” said Natalia Steele, an attorney from Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease who represents DiStefano’s estate. “It is to seek justice for the DiStefanos, and to do what we can to see that this doesn’t happen again, that we filed this complaint.”
Steele said it’s unclear why the CDC didn’t include DiStefano’s case in its list of deaths linked to the outbreak. A CDC spokeswoman responded to the Springfield News-Sun request for clarification by saying that the investigation is now closed and the organization doesn’t typically provide further comment.
“Her kids essentially got to watch her suffer and pass away over a number of days and it certainly affected the family quite a bit,” Steele said.
The lawsuit also points to U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that indicate samples of listeria were present in the Springfield plant as early as 2014. Company officials have also said they are cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice, which has launched an investigation into the outbreak.
The complaint also argued DiStefano suffered from delirium during her illness, which caused hallucinations and eventually led to a fall, broken ribs, a punctured lung and a subdural hematoma, which led to her death.
“Having known since 2014 that its processes and facilities were inadequate to protect consumers from contamination and that listeria was in fact present in its facility, when Dole put salad mix contaminated with listeria into the stream of commerce in 2015, it acted with gross negligence, recklessness, malice and/or willful and wanton disregard for the general public’s and Mrs. DiStefano’s health and well being,” the lawsuit argues.
In a separate case, Constance Georgostathis is seeking damages after her mother, Kiki Christofield, bought a Dole salad mix in late January and ended up in a coma. Christofield is still recovering from her illness, said Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer representing the family in that suit.
Attorneys for Dole denied each allegation in its response to Marler’s case, and argued the company complied with all government and industry standards.
“Plaintiff’s claims are barred because any injuries Angeliki Christofield may have suffered were proximately caused by superseding and/or intervening acts, events, or pre-existing conditions, unknown to and not discoverable by Dole, including the acts or omissions of third parties, for which Dole is not responsible,” Dole says in its court filings.
It’s possible more cases against Dole might be filed in the future, Marler said. In the meantime, he said his client has occurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
“We’ve also been retained by a couple of other people, including a couple of Canadian citizens, so we may also be filing additional lawsuits in the coming weeks,” Marler said.
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