D. Philip Shockley was in such pain and physical distress that he collapsed inside his Houston area apartment, where he was later found unconscious by a co-worker who was concerned about his unexplained absence from work. The 32-year-old retirement center director had gone to the emergency room for care, but had been sent home with symptoms the doctors believed were due to a migraine headache. Instead, Mr. Shockley was suffering from Listeria meningitis with encephalitis and he remained unconscious for six days. He awoke in the intensive care unit of a local hospital, unable to walk, talk, swallow, see properly or move much of his body.
Now living with permanent neurological damage and other threats to his health, Mr. Shockley’s federal Listeria lawsuit against the maker of Blue Bell ice cream highlights the tragic human cost of food poisoning. His disabilities required him to move back to his childhood home in Maryland to be cared for by his parents.
“Phil Shockley’s loss has been profound and has caused enormous life changes for Phil and his family,” said Brendan Flaherty, a lawyer from the national food safety law firm, Pritzker|Olsen Attorneys. “This is why we ask food companies to make safety the top priority. This is why food safety matters.”
The Pritzker|Olsen firm filed Mr. Shockley’s lawsuit on May 19 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas (Austin Division). Pregnant women and people living with suppressed or underdeveloped immune systems are the most susceptible to serious illness from exposure to Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and Mr. Shockley had been taking immunosuppressive medications to treat ulcerative colitis. “The drugs left him particularly vulnerable to food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes,” the lawsuit said.
The complaint summarizes the evidence linking Blue Bell ice cream to Listeria infections dating back several years. The outbreak investigation by state and federal agencies also uncovered manufacturing conditions at Blue Bell that fostered the spread of the bacteria to many different ice cream products. According to the lawsuit, FDA inspectors recorded 26 conditions constituting violations of federal law and posing significant risks to the safety of Blue Bell products. The FDA itemized an array of Blue Bell’s internal testing results showing extensive Listeria contamination from early 2013 to early 2015.
At the time of his illness, Phil Shockley was in a leadership position at a large, campus-style retirement community in Houston. Prior to becoming associate executive director of the facility, he graduated cum laude with degrees in Political Science and Information Systems from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Public Policy with a focus on aging.
The lawsuit states that while at work, Mr. Shockley regularly consumed single-serving Blue Bell ice cream. In addition, he consumed Blue Bell ice cream at home, purchased from retail stores. Since his long hospitalization, he has “endured grueling inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation.” Because of his severe neurological impairment, long hospitalizations and ongoing treatment, Mr. Shockley has been unable to work.