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Attorney Bill Marler on Tainted Peanut Butter Outbreak

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Seattle, WAAttorney Bill Marler is on the phone—he's arranging for two families with children affected by the salmonella tainted peanut butter outbreak to appear before a Congressional hearing later this year in Washington D.C. "Call me back in 5 minutes, I'm on another line," says Marler. An attorney with 15 years experience fighting for people injured by food borne illnesses, it's no surprise he's busy with people seeking his help with what may be the most serious salmonella outbreak in US history.

Peanut ButterMarler has lots to say. "The size of this outbreak, the number of people made ill plus the number of deaths is shockingly high," says Marler. "The scope of the product recall may eventually prove to be the largest recall of food we've ever had in this country."

Salmonella Enterocolitis
There are more than 700 known cases of salmonella enterocolitis connected to contaminated peanut butter and peanut paste manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of America at its plant in Blakely, Georgia. Dozens and dozens of people have been hospitalized and 8 people have died. "I would not be surprised if we see more deaths," says Marler from his Seattle office.

Salmonella enterocolitis—a bacterial infection in the lining of the small intestine caused by the salmonella bacteria causes severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

The number of people affected by salmonella tainted peanut butter and the seriousness of the outbreak is startling, according to Bill Marler. "Usually, in 95 percent of cases of this kind, victims will not require hospitalization," says Marler. "However in these cases, about 28 percent of the people are ending up in hospital, so whatever was going on with this particular bug, it tends to be a little more virulent than other salmonella outbreaks in the past."

"We would not expect to see this many deaths normally, but the reality is that a lot of older people received this peanut butter while they were in some sort of health care facility," he says.

Plant Closed
The plant in Blakely, Georgia where the salmonella outbreak originated is now closed. The number of food products recalled by the company now extends to over 800 and includes all products manufactured at the plant since January 2007.

The Georgia plant manufactured peanut butter and peanut paste in bulk for sale to other food processing companies like Kellogg's and to large institutional customers. It was shipped in containers ranging in size from 5 to 1700 pounds.

Suits Filed
Attorney Marler is now handling 35 tainted peanut butter cases. He has already filed suit against the Peanut Corporation of America on behalf of two children who became seriously ill and hospitalized for several days after eating Kellogg's Peanut Crackers. Both have recovered, but Marler is also looking at suits on behalf of families who lost a loved one in the outbreak. "Unfortunately, two of the cases involve deaths, both elderly people," says Marler.

Liability
The Peanut Corporation of America denies any wrongdoing or responsibility for the outbreak and points to inspection reports from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Although inspectors found problems at the plant including gaps under doorways big enough to allow rodents, the problems were not considered to be serious.

However, there is more and more evidence to show that there may have been signs of trouble at the plant. According to Food and Drug Administration reports, the Peanut Corporation of America found salmonella contamination in its products at least 12 times between 2007 and 2008. When retests showed no signs of the bacteria, the plant shipped the batches to customers.

"Here's a case where exposure to a punitive damages claim is very real. So the size of the outbreak, the risk of punitive damages and the number of deaths as I said, is somewhat unusual," says Marler. "It is not what I normally see, even after doing this for 15 years."

Marler is considered one of America's foremost food borne illness litigation lawyers. His firm has handled hundreds and hundreds of cases involving E.coli contaminated hamburger to raw milk.

Bill Marler is a graduate of the Seattle University School of Law (1987). This year, Mr. Marler received the 2008 Outstanding Lawyer Award by the King County Bar Association, as well as being given the Public Justice Award by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.

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