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Man Sues Sara Lee Corp. Over His Wife’s Death - Dominion Post - February 08, 1999

Man Sues Sara Lee Corp. Over His Wife’s Death
Dominion Post
February 8, 1999

Sara Lee Corp. has been hit by another lawsuit related to a massive food-poisoning outbreak traced to its Bil Mar Foods unit. The company said it would move manufacturing of some hot dogs and deli meats out of its Zeeland, Mich., meat-processing plant. In the wrongful-death lawsuit, filed against Sara Lee and Bil Mar Foods, a Memphis, Tenn., man alleges that his wife died of meningitis because she ate a Ball Park hot dog contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Laboratory tests from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Health Department confirmed it was the same strain of Listeria that has killed 11 other people and sickened about 75 people in 16 states, and been found in unopened packages of Sara Lee meat products, said attorney Kenneth B. Moll.

The suit was filed in Cook County, Ill, Circuit Court on behalf of John Bodnar, 76, whose wife, Helen, died Oct. 19 after battling the bacterial infection for several weeks.

What could be extremely beneficial to the case is John Bodnar's daily journal, in which he jotted down the most minute details of his life, like what he and Helen watched on TV and what they ate, for 26 years. On Aug. 13, he wrote that he and Helen, whom he called "Mom," ate a dinner of soup and hot dogs. Nine days later, they had hot dogs again.

In the diary, Bodnar wrote that Helen first got sick Oct. 3. Her condition worsened in the hospital and it wasn't until Oct. 9 that doctors began to suspect meningitis. A spinal tap the next day confirmed this. Ten days later, she died at St. Francis Hospital.

"Mom left me today," Bodnar wrote. "She looks much better with all the equipment removed from her mouth, nose, throat and arms…I kissed her goodbye, told her that I would see her soon."

Moll, who filed a separate lawsuit in December seeking class-action status on behalf of anyone who has gotten sick from Sara Lee meat products, said he would be seeking "anywhere from $10 million to $50 million" in punitive damages and between $500,000 and $1 million in compensatory damages for Bodnar.

Sara Lee announced in December a recall of more than 300 varieties of its hot dogs and deli meats, including such well-known brands as Ball Park franks and Mr. Turkey.

The Chicago-based consumer-products company said last month it expects to retrieve about 15 million pounds of the meat from supermarkets and consumers, though the exact amount of possibly tainted meat products hasn't yet been determined.

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