The first lawsuit against Blue Bell, stemming from the Listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell ice cream, has been filed. The suit was filed on behalf of David Philip Shockley, a 33-year-old Maryland man who developed Listeria meningitis that left him with severe neurological impairment. The suit was filed May 19, 2015 in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas Austin Division.
In 2013, Mr. Shockley was 31 years old and living in Houston, Texas where he worked as the Associate Executive Director and Nursing Facility Administrator at a retirement community that served single serving Blue Bell ice cream and other Blue Bell ice cream products, according to the complaint. While at work, Mr. Shockley regularly consumed Blue Bell products, he also purchased Blue Bell ice cream at retail stores and ate them at home.
In late October 2013, he developed a severe headache with nausea and light sensitivity. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home. Several hours later he lost consciousness.
After Mr. Shockley missed a work function and did not respond to attempts to reach him, his friends and colleagues went to his home where they discovered him un-responsive, pale, febrile, and in respiratory distress. Again, he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Emergency personnel recorded his temperature was over 106˚ F. He was admitted into the intensive care unit in acute respiratory failure, septic shock and suffering seizures. He did not fully regain consciousness for six days.
When he did regain consciousness, Mr Shockley was unable to walk, talk, swallow, see properly or move much of his body. He was diagnosed with Listeria meningitis with encephalitis. After eighteen days, he was discharged from the hospital’s ICU to an inpatient rehabilitation program where he required around-the-clock assistance.
After completing weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, Mr. Shockley completed an outpatient rehabilitation program. He then moved back to his childhood home in Snow Hill, Maryland where his parents could more easily care for him.
In Maryland, Mr Shockley continues to receive a variety of rehabilitation services. Because of his severe neurological impairment, long hospitalizations and ongoing treatment, he has been unable to work.
“Mr. Shockley’s case is a tragic example of just how dangerous Listeria monocytogenes can be,” said Ryan Osterholm, a food safety attorney. “Blue Bell had serious issues with Listeria for quite some time. We look forward to finding out much more about what Blue Bell knew, when they knew it, and what actions they took to correct the Listeria problem.”
In March, health officials discovered that Listeria in Blue Bell’s ice cream has been responsible for 10 illnesses and three deaths since 2010. After Listeria was found in Blue Bell products made at two of the company’s three facilities, production was halted at all three and a nationwide recall was issued for all of the company’s products.
After the outbreak, investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visited Blue Bell’s three plants in Brenham, Texas; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma an Sylacauga, Alabama. They found food safety violations at all of them.
Although Listeria is a known risk for dairy products and dairy products are the most common source of Listeria outbreaks, the FDA found that company did not do all it could to keep its facilities and products free of the bacteria.