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CHICAGO - THE LAW GROUP, LTD. filed the first nationwide class action lawsuit against Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms on Sept. 15, a day after lab tests found hundreds of cases of salmonella contamination at the Wright County farm in a nearly two-year period before the outbreak that prompted the largest recall of eggs in national history this summer (Hilda A. Dwyer, et al. v. Quality Egg, LLC, et al., No. 1:10-cv-05847, N.D. Ill.).
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois here, was brought on behalf of all persons in the United States who purchased and ate shell eggs contaminated with the bacteria Salmonella Enteritidis (SE). The plaintiffs seek to recover damages for personal injuries, deaths, restitution, refunds and medical monitoring against Quality Egg, doing business as Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa, and Hillandale Farms of Iowa Inc. in New Hampton, which tested, marketed, distributed, promoted and sold eggs contaminated with the bacteria.
According to the complaint, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported a nationwide four-fold increase in the number of SE cases since May 2010, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported about 200 SE cases every week from June and early July 2010. This is in comparison to an average of 50 reports of SE a week over the past five years. It says an investigation by the FDA, CDC and state agencies found that the contaminated eggs were from Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms.
"Moreover, recent investigation given to House Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed that there have been 426 cases of salmonella contamination between September 2008 and July 2010 on Defendant Wright County Egg farm, and that 73 were 'potentially' positive for Salmonella Enteritidis," the complaint says.
Federal investigators reported finding Salmonella bacteria in chicken feed and in barn and walkway areas at the farms, as well as rodents, piles of manure, uncaged birds and flies too numerous to count, the FDA said.
Food and Drug Administration inspectors reported in August that neither Wright County nor Hillandale fully followed their plans to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis.
The lawsuit accuses both farms of numerous egregious safety violations, including the failure to comply with federal and state laws, including the Egg Safety rule, which effectively created an environment allowing Salmonella Enteritidis to infect producing hens.
According to the complaint, Wright County Egg sold shell eggs to distributors and wholesalers in Mexico and 22 states, who then distributed the shell eggs further throughout the country. Hillandale Farms distributed to grocery stores, other distributors and wholesalers in 14 states, according to the complaint. The FDA confirms that more than 500 million eggs were involved in the August nationwide recall.
The complaint says the defendants identified more than 16 brand names under which the eggs were sold, but that information is incomplete because some eggs were sold individually and repackaged under different names.
The complaint was filed by Pamela G. Sotoodeh and Kurt D. Hyzy of THE LAW GROUP, LTD. in Chicago.
Download the complaint.