May 27, 2024

Pritzker Lawyers Represent Cleveland Fair E. Coli Petting Zoo Patients

The firm of Pritzker Hageman is representing victims of the Cleveland Fair E. coli petting zoo outbreak that happened last summer.  Most outbreaks involving this organism are caused by adulterated food. However, petting zoo animals have also been a frequent source of E. coli O157 infections, usually resulting in the hospitalization (and, too often, the death) of many children.

GavelMany states, including North Carolina, have statutes and regulations intended to lessen the risk of such human-animal interactions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and the American Veterinary Medical Association have also weighed in on the subject by publishing a “Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings.” Thus, there is no shortage of guidance on preventing these outbreaks, yet they continue to occur.

They continue to occur, as they do in foodborne illness outbreaks, for one primary reason: the colossal gap between what we know works (and we’re supposed to do) and what operators and inspectors actually do (or fail to do). When that gap occurs, tragedy happens.

Take for example the North Carolina petting zoo outbreak: the October 2012 Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak was associated with the Cleveland County Fair. One hundred six people were sickened, seven of whom developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). One child died as a result of the infection. That outbreak occurred only a year after a similar outbreak at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh in which 25 people were sickened and 4 developed HUS. The 2011 outbreak, in turn, was preceded by the 2004 North Carolina State Fair petting zoo outbreak in which there were 187 illnesses including 15 HUS cases. Following the 2004 outbreak, a law was enacted – Aedin’s Law – that created regulations for exhibitions housing animals intended for interaction with the public.

Based on that history and all the regulatory action that preceded it, one would think that Cleveland County Fair officials and the company that provided the animals for the Fair’s petting zoo would have been even more diligent about pathogen safety. Sadly, they weren’t. Not even on the most fundamental safety precaution: keeping wash station soap dispensers filled. On the day the child who died from Escherichia coli O157:H7 complications visited the fair, the soap dispenser nearest the petting zoo exit was empty.

Pritzker law firm represents the family of the child who died and other victims of this outbreak. Litigation against the Fair and the owner of the petting zoo animals is pending. While court-ordered exchange of information (so called “discovery”) has not yet taken place, one thing is already known: the owner of the animals claims not to have any insurance coverage for this occurrence.

No soap and no insurance. No justice either.


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