Poultry Processor Sued Over Listeria Outbreak - Mealey’s Litigation Report: Class Actions - November 14, 2002

Mealey’s Litigation Report: Class Actions
November 14, 2002

PHILADELPHIA - A 98-year-old doctor who was hospitalized with listeriosis for two months after eating contaminate turkey meat filed a nationwide class action Nov. 4 against the meat processor (Frank Niemtzow, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp. and Wampler Foods, Inc., Nov. Term, 2002 No. 000065, Pa. Comm. Pls., Philadelphia Co.).

Longboat Key, Fla., resident Frank Niemtzow sued in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that Pilgrim's Pride Corp.'s products caused deaths and serious injuries from an outbreak of listeriosis.

Listeria Outbreak

On Oct. 15, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that an investigation identified a specific strain of Listeria that was found in the defendants' manufacturing facility in Franconiz, Pa., and 46 people. The CDC said that of the 46 people found to have the outbreak strain, 10 have died, including three miscarriages or stillbirths.

Those affected live in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Michigan and Massachusetts. Listeriosis is said to be a serious and often fatal bacterial infection.

On Oct. 9, Pilgrim's Pride recalled 195,000 pounds of meat products that had been manufactured on Aug. 14, 2002. Subsequently, the recall was expended to include 27.4 million pounds of fresh and frozen turkey and chicken products under the Wampler brand name that were produced since May 1, 2002.

Putative Class

Niemtzow seeks certification of two separate classes. The first involves all people who purchased and/or consumed certain meat products manufactured by Pilgrim's Pride Corp. and Pilgrim's subsidiary Wampler Foods Inc. between May 1, 2002, and Oct. 11, 2002, with the serial number P-1351 and who have suffered injuries. Included in this class are all significant others who have suffered a loss of consortium and dependents and others entitled to recover damages under applicable wrongful death or survival statutes.

He also seeks certification of a second class of all people who purchased meat products manufactured by the defendants between May 1, 2002, and Oct. 11, 2002, bearing establishment code P-1351 and who have not suffered any personal injury. The class seeks reimbursement of their costs for purchasing the products and any medical expenses incurred for examinations to determine any Listeria exposure.

Niemtzow alleges that the defendants had previous notice and knowledge that its products could be contaminated but that corrective actions were not implemented or ineffective. He claims that the defendants' Franconia plant had been cited for sanitation violations more than 40 times since January 2002.

He seeks damages for negligence, violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, unjust enrichment and punitive damages.

Merrill G. Davidoff and Shannon J. Carson of Berger Montague in Philadelphia and Kenneth B. Moll and Hal J. Kleinman of Kenneth B Moll & Associates in Chicago filed the complaint.