PHOENIX--(BUSINESS WIRE)--On March 1, 2018, an Arizona federal court jury returned a verdict in the amount of $6.5 million in favor of a 5-and-a-half-year-old child who suffered a brain injury as a result of a Salmonella Heidelberg infection from chicken produced by Foster Poultry Farms (2:15-cv-02587-DLR). The young child, Noah Craten, was represented by the Minneapolis law firm Pritzker Hageman, P.A. The trial team consisted of Eric Hageman, Brendan Flaherty, David Coyle and Kate Flom.
The case established that chicken producers like Foster Poultry Farms can be held responsible for Salmonella contamination on raw chicken product even though the USDA does not consider Salmonella a per se “adulterant” in raw chicken and even though the bacteria can be killed by cooking the chicken. The case sets an important precedent for food safety.
Foster Poultry Farms argued that because Salmonella contamination is “natural” to raw chicken, it cannot form the basis of liability, regardless of the amount and type of contamination. Further, the company asserted that there was no evidence that the child ever consumed its product because Plaintiffs could not produce shopper card records, receipts, or other direct evidence that they had purchased Foster Farms chicken.
Plaintiffs introduced evidence that Foster Farms’ entire operation was infested with particularly dangerous strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, including the strain that sickened Noah Craten. The jury considered evidence of prior foodborne illness outbreaks linked to Foster Farms and epidemiological evidence that Noah Craten was part of a very large Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health departments. According to the CDC, 639 people from 29 states were sickened in the Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak from March 1, 2013 to July 11, 2014.
In what is believed to be the first verdict of its kind, the jury concluded that Foster Farms was negligent in producing Salmonella Heidelberg-contaminated chicken and that, based on epidemiological and microbiological evidence alone, it caused Noah Craten’s illness. The jury attributed 30% of the fault to Foster Farms and 70% to family members for their preparation of the chicken. The net verdict for the family was $1.95 million.
According to lead trial attorney, Eric Hageman, the verdict establishes a precedent that should change the poultry industry. “Traditionally, Foster Farms and other poultry producers have argued that they are under absolutely no obligation to address even pervasive Salmonella contamination. The jury in this case said enough is enough. Clean up your act.” The jury’s verdict, Hageman said, “showed that Foster Farms cannot simply hide behind USDA ‘approval’ of its chicken” and was “a rejection of the argument that poultry companies can produce contaminated product and then blame consumers who get sick from eating it.”
The Craten family was previously featured on the Frontline documentary “The Trouble With Chicken,” which traced the history of Salmonella Heidelberg problems at Foster Farms and the challenges public health agencies have had forcing them to change.
Pritzker Hageman is one of America’s leading law firms specializing in foodborne illness and diseases resulting from pathogenic microorganisms. Attorneys Fred Pritzker, Brendan Flaherty and Eric Hageman can be reached at 612-338-0202 or via the firm’s website, www.pritzkerlaw.com. The firm’s offices are located at 45 South 7th Street, Suite 2950, Minneapolis, MN.