The former Texas resident who is the first person to sue Blue Bell ice cream in connection with a deadly Listeria outbreak endured well over a year of intensive neurological treatment, therapy and rehabilitation, according to the formal complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas. The plaintiff, 32-year-old D. Philip Shockley, fell ill in October 2013 and continues to suffer from posterior fossa syndrome (PFS), a severe neurological syndrome caused by damage to the brainstem and cerebellum, the complaint said.
The Listeria Blue Bell lawsuit, filed May 19 on Shockley’s behalf, states that Listeria monocytogenes in Blue Bell ice cream infected the victim’s blood and migrated to his brain, where it caused extensive damage, leaving him unconscious and near death inside his Houston apartment. Co-workers found him at the home after he failed to show up at work, where he was an executive. Even while hospitalized, Mr. Shockley remained unconscious for several days while doctors diagnosed him with Listeria meningitis.
After his lengthy stay in the intensive care unit of a Houston hospital, his cognitive and neurological disabilities were still so severe he was forced to move to Maryland where he has remained under his parents’ care, unable to work.
Shockley’s legal team has said that Blue Bell “utterly failed” to design and implement sanitation and safety programs that would have prevented the sort of Listeria infestation that FDA inspectors found at Blue Bell’s manufacturing facilities as part of the outbreak investigation anchored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Texas-based company recalled its entire product line on April 20 and can only restart its ice cream business under terms laid out by state health authorities.
The lawsuit notes that all makers of ready-to-eat food have known for decades the importance of guarding against Listeria contamination in their manufacturing facilities. Listeria monocytogenes is one of the most virulent and deadly foodborne
pathogens with a fatality rate of over 20 percent. Virtually all people who contract
listeriosis require hospitalization. Those who are elderly, immuno-compromised or pregnant are particularly vulnerable. Mr. Shockley was immuno-compromised.
Since 1985, the FDA has maintained a “zero tolerance” policy for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. Raw milk, butter, cream and other high fat dairy products were among the products found to pose the highest risk of being associated with listeriosis.
“This is a case which highlights the tragic human cost of foodborne illness,” said attorney Brendan Flaherty. “Phil Shockley’s loss has been profound and has caused enormous life changes for Phil and his family. This is why we ask food companies to make safety the top priority. This is why food safety matters.”