The United States Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it would be investigating an outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka sicknesses that occurred in several different states. The agency has discovered that the illnesses are likely linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal and has advised that consumers avoid the cereal and throw away any boxes that they may own.
In 31 states, 73 people have become ill. Though no deaths have been reported, 24 individuals did require hospitalization.
The Kellogg Company, cooperating with the FDA, agreed to recall the cereal voluntarily. The FDA has also begun investigating the Kellogg’s facility that manufactures Honey Smacks.
In addition to the United States, the affected cereal was distributed in Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Guatemala, Aruba, Saint Maarten, Curacao, Barbados, Tahiti, and Tortola.
Consumers should discard any Honey Smacks cereal they have in their homes, regardless of the expiration date. The voluntary recall impacts all boxes of cereal within the product’s one-year shelf life that are currently on store shelves. However, the FDA has warned that even boxes of Honey Smacks that are labeled with earlier dates could also have Salmonella contamination.
The signs of Salmonella infection include fever, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. These symptoms generally last between 4 and 7 days and begin about 12 to 72 hours after coming into contact with the bacterium. Although most individuals recover on their own, others require hospitalization. Hospitalization may be necessary if severe diarrhea is reported after the bacteria travels from the intestines into the bloodstream. Once this occurs, death may occur if proper treatment is not rendered. Approximately 400 Americans die every year from Salmonella infections.
The present outbreak of Salmonella is especially dangerous since it affects a favorite children’s cereal. According to the FDA, children are most susceptible to Salmonella infections. In fact, in children under 5 years of age, the Salmonella infection rates exceed those in all other age groups combined. People with weakened immune systems and older individuals are also at increased risk of infection.
There are several steps consumers and retailers may take to reduce the risk of Salmonella infection.
- Washing and sanitizing food display cases and refrigerators
- Washing and sanitizing food preparation surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils
- Washing hands after cleaning and disinfecting utensils, surfaces, refrigerators, and display cases
Regularly implementing these practices will help reduce the risk of contamination.
Who is responsible when a product causes injuries or illnesses?
All manufacturers have a duty to provide safe products to consumers. This duty applies to all manufacturers, including drug manufacturers, computer manufacturers, and, of course, food manufacturers. If these manufacturers breach this duty, they may be liable for damages in a products liability lawsuit.
To prevail in a products liability case, the injured consumer must show:
- The consumer was using the product as directed or as anticipated by the manufacturer;
- The consumer was injured;
- The product was defective; and
- The defective nature of the item was the proximate cause of the consumer’s injury.
Each of these elements must be proven for a consumer to prevail in a products liability claim. If the consumer cannot provide evidence that supports one of these elements, the claim will fail, and the consumer will be responsible for any financial losses he or she has incurred.
There are three primary types of product defects that may be present in an item:
- Design defects
- Manufacturing defects
- Marketing defects
Design defects are present if there is a problem with the product’s “blueprints.” For example, consider what would happen if a coffee pot was designed with a type of glass that could not handle hot temperatures very well—the glass may break, injuring the consumer.
Manufacturing defects occur when an error occurs as the item is being produced or distributed. For example, perhaps in a factory, a worker inadvertently mixes the wrong ingredients in a product, which makes the product dangerous for the consumer to use.
Marketing defects occur when the manufacturer does not provide proper warnings or instructions with an item. Perhaps a medication should not be used in children under six years of age. If this warning is not printed on the label, and the product injures a child under six years old, a products liability claim may be possible.
Damages in a products liability case
If a consumer prevails in a products liability case, a number of damages may be available. Depending on the facts of the claim, the consumer may be eligible to receive:
- Medical expenses
- The cost of future medical care
- The cost of altering a house to accommodate an injury (for example, installing handrails or wheelchair ramps)
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Lost wages
- Loss of consortium
- The cost of hiring in-home caretakers
- If death occurs, funeral and burial expenses may be claimed, as well as the estimated earnings of the deceased
Of course, other types of compensation may also be available. With the assistance of an experienced products liability attorney, all avenues of recovery will be properly identified and pursued.
What types of evidence are considered in a products liability claim?
Products liability claims are often quite complex. They require a careful analysis of the structure of a product, as well as the anatomy and physiology of the human body. Proving a link between the defective product and the consumer’s injuries can be a lengthy process. However, the following types of evidence are usually offered in these claims:
- Medical records
- Video surveillance footage
- Internal company records
- FDA records, if available
- Inspection reports
- Eyewitness statements
- Expert medical witness reports
- Employee records
- Autopsy reports
- Cell phone records
- Product design plans
Of course, a variety of other types of evidence may also be studied and submitted to support a products liability claim. A products liability attorney will know what evidence to gather and submit to present the best case possible for the consumer.
How long do products liability claims take?
Products liability claims require the detailed analysis of a large volume of evidence. Therefore, it may take several months or longer—sometimes, even years—to finalize a case. In many products liability cases, a class action lawsuit is formed that includes claimants from all over the country. Class action cases also take a significant period of time to resolve.
What takes so long? Identifying possible defendants, locating witnesses, and compiling evidence simply takes a significant period of time. For example, just requesting all of the medical records in a case may take months. If a consumer’s treatment is ongoing, it may be wise to wait a little while to file a lawsuit to gain a better understanding of the consumer’s injuries first. Court dates may be delayed for numerous reasons. There are many factors that impact the length of a products liability claim, many of which are out of anyone’s control. However, with an experienced products liability attorney, a claim should move as quickly as possible.
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