E. coli Class Action in CanadaOct 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The rapidly increasing E.coli outbreak that is linked to the Harvey’s chain restaurant in the North Parry area of Ontario, Canada has resulted in a 15-year-old girl remaining hospitalized and in serious condition. There are 209 other suspected cases of E. coli that also appear to be linked to Harvey’s in North Bay.
Now, the first reports of a class action suit against Harvey’s are emerging, while the local health unit there continues to fight off claims it delayed advising the public which restaurant was involved. The first cases were reported two weekends ago, said Dr. Catherine Whiting, medical officer of health for the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit. Although the symptoms, which include bloody diarrhea, were similar, a common link was not found. “And then Sunday, a few more cases were reported. At that time later in the afternoon, we received our first positive lab report,” Dr. Whiting explained. Soon after, Harvey's was found to be the common denominator.
By Tuesday, Dr. Whiting reported that Harvey's was the only link and the area's public health strategy was finally implemented. A Ministry of Health spokesman agreed that releasing Harvey’s as the culprit would not have led to more cases. And, although the health unit reported a reduction in suspected cases, lab-confirmed cases rose and the health unit indicated the outbreak was coming to a close; however, cases continue to increase with two confirmed as secondary. Of the 209 cases under investigation, 39 are lab-confirmed and victims span eight Ontario health units, with one case being treated in Quebec.
Rick Holley, a food science researcher at the University of Manitoba has been pushing for a national strategy to respond to such outbreaks, questioning why the specific food source in this E. Coli outbreak has not yet been isolated. “They don't have the tools to do the job right. They don't have the resources to do it right. And that's what I think should be making the people angry,” Professor Holley said. Dr. Whiting said, “I will grant you that the system, I don't think, has enough surge capacity” to deal with major outbreaks.
Meanwhile, a statement of claim for the class-action lawsuit was filed late last week by two men seeking $17-million in damages. Both ate at Harvey’s on October 6 and were hospitalized days later. The men allege Harvey’s “served food and beverage that was contaminated with E. Coli” and “failed to act in a manner to prevent exposure to E. Coli at Harvey's.”
Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days. More and more, E. coli is turning up in produce and water and seems to be sweeping North America in recent months with outbreaks popping up in a variety of states in the U.S. as well as in Canada. E. coli taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces a type of toxin that has been associated with kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.