Families of six children sickened with E. coli during a dairy festival in Whatcom County last year are suing organizers and the school district that authorized the field trip. At least 60 people were sickened and 11 were hospitalized in the outbreak, federal officials said.
Families of six children sickened with dangerous E. coli infections during a Whatcom County dairy festival last spring are suing the event organizers, the site where it was held and the school district that authorized the field trip.
The Whatcom County Dairy Women, the Northwest Washington Fair Association and the Lynden School District failed to heed state and federal guidelines regarding infection prevention at the Milk Makers Fest last April, according to the complaint filed late Monday in Whatcom County Superior Court.
As a result, 60 people — mostly young children — were sickened, including 11 who were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The federal agency had to be called in to help halt the outbreak of E. coli O157: H7.
Parents involved in the lawsuit include Amy Hayes-Shaw, whose then-15-year-old son, Toby Hager, was hospitalized for 10 days and suffered hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening complication of E. coli infection. Toby was among the students who volunteered to help set up the event and were not provided adequate hand-washing facilities, the complaint stated.
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“We want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” his mother said.
Other plaintiffs in the suit include Palmer and Elizabeth Myers, whose first-grade son, Palmer Myers Jr., contracted an E. coli O157: H7 infection and then infected his sister, Halle Myers, according to the complaint.
Chad and Amanda Neiser also sued on behalf of their daughter, Macy Neiser, who was infected with E. coli during the field trip and then infected her brother, Bennet Neiser, and sister, Selah Neiser. Bennet suffered HUS, was hospitalized for 12 days and suffered permanent kidney damage, the complaint states.
The families all live in Whatcom County and are represented by Seattle food safety law firm Marler Clark.
Investigators eventually found the same types of E. coli O157: H7 linked to the outbreak in samples taken from several sites in the dairy barn at the Northwest Fair & Event Center. Animals, including cattle, had been exhibited in the barn previously.
“This investigation highlighted the importance of implementing infection prevention measures at events held in venues with animals or where animals had been present,” the CDC summary concluded.
A 15-year history of E. coli infections tied to petting zoos and other similar sites had led to robust public-health advisories about ways to prevent such infections, the complaint noted.
Jim Frey, superintendent of the Lynden School District, said in a statement that officials were aware of the lawsuit.
“The District sympathizes with the families and our students who may have become ill from exposure to E. coli bacteria at the festival,” the statement said.
But he cited the pending litigation and said it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.
Officials with the Whatcom County Dairy Women and the Northwest Washington Fair Association did not respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.