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Sam's Club Named in E. Coli Lawsuit

Jan 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP An E. coli lawsuit filed in Tennessee’s Knox County Circuit Court alleges Sam’s Club employees did not receive a memo regarding E. coli-tainted meat and, as a result, customers became ill.  Louis J. Smith and Jessie D. Freeman filed a $1 million claim against Sam's Club, employee James Harrison, and Kansas-based Cargill Meat Solutions.  Smith and Freeman state—via attorney Christopher "Kit" Rodgers—that Sam's employees, including Harrison, assured them the frozen ground beef they bought at the store was not contaminated, despite media reports to the contrary.  It was only after the pair cooked the meat and fell ill that Sam's employees insist they received a memo about the E. coli-related contamination, the lawsuit stated.

Cargill Meat Solutions and Topps Meat Company announced a widespread recall of ground beef patties sold at stores including Wal-Mart and Sam's Club as well as to restaurants last year after meat was linked to E. coli-related illnesses.  Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are both owned by the same corporation.  On October 5th, Topps shut its doors, laying off most of its employees, citing “severe economic impact of the recall” and that its property in Elizabeth and elsewhere “poses or is alleged to pose a threat of imminent and identifiable harm to the public health or safety.”

According to the lawsuit, Smith and Freeman bought Cargill frozen beef patties from the Sam's Club near Knoxville Center Mall on September 27th; they claim they became ill September 29th, one day after Sam's Club employees assured them the ground beef patties they purchased were not recalled; the next day, they "viewed a report on CNN news regarding a recall of Wal-Mart ground beef due to E. coli contamination"; the men contacted the store again, on October 1st, and were "assured again by the meat manager that the meat purchased was not a part of the recall."  "Plaintiffs filed, or believed they were filing, an incident report with the meat manager on the same day."  On October 6th, the men again contacted the store "and were told that the employees of Sam's Club did not receive the memo (about the meat recall) until October 3rd or 4th," the lawsuit stated.  Also according to the lawsuit, the manager, Mr. Harrison, assured the men the meat was perfectly safe to eat.  One day later, Linda Godwin from Cargill contacted the men "to gather information for an incident report via the telephone," the lawsuit stated. "During the conversation, Ms. Godwin stated that she did not know how the feces got mixed into the meat."  According to the lawsuit, the pair heard nothing from Sam's Club.

Meanwhile, two Knoxville siblings, John McDonald, 4, and his sister, Michaela, 18 months, both suffered serious illness from a strain of the bacteria linked to Cargill meat purchased at Sam's Club last September when they ate from the same burger.  The children's parents filed suit against Cargill; Sam's Club, was not named.  Around the same time, 20-month-old Jaycee Burgin of Newport died from symptoms linked to E. coli bacteria; however, officials are unable to confirm the source of the infection.

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