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Whole Foods Sued Over Child's Death, Allegedly From Tainted Beef

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 18, 2014 2:25 PM

Whole Foods is being sued by a Massachusetts couple over their son's death after he allegedly ate tainted beef that was purchased from the store.

Melissa and Andrew Kaye filed suit in federal court in Boston on Tuesday, alleging that the grass-fed beef purchased at a Whole Foods Market led to their 8-year-old son's death from E. coli in July. The Associated Press reports that Whole Foods issued a recall of ground beef products on August 15 after an investigation by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) into E. coli contamination.

What is a business' liability for this kind of E. coli-related death?

Son Died After Eating Tainted Beef

The suit filed Tuesday claims that Joshua Kaye, 8, fell ill and then died after eating contaminated beef purchased at a Whole Foods in South Weymouth, Massachusetts. Andrew Kaye told New England Cable News that federal agents had been investigating an "E. coli cluster" in June that involved Whole Foods, "far before" Joshua was identified as sick. He alleges that DNA samples have linked his son's E. coli infection to this cluster, and lays the blame on beef purchased at the Whole Foods.

For its part, the FSIS announced a recall of 73 pounds of ground beef product from the South Weymouth Whole Foods produced in June. Its investigation indicated that the three Massachusetts cases of E. coli related to the contamination were purchased from two Whole Foods Markets prior to the onset of the illness.

Whole Foods expressed its sympathy for the Kayes, but denied that there was "any clear link to [its] business," reports NECN.

Tainted Food Liability

Despite Whole Food's protestations, small businesses in similar recall situations have the legal deck stacked against them. Like a student who sued in May over E. coli poisoning from recalled ground beef, there are various legal theories that could lead to the family's recovery, such as:

  • Negligence. The Kayes may be able to prove that Whole Foods was negligent in not connecting the dots between complaints of early illness and the beef products and failing to pull them from shelves.
  • Breached warranty. Businesses owe customers a implied warranty that food sold to them is edible. Contaminated or injurious food can be found to violate this implied promise.
  • Strict Liability. No matter where your business is situated in the supply chain (rancher, distributor, grocery store, etc.), it may be held liable for a dangerous food product.

The Kayes are asking for unspecified damages, but Whole Foods has deep pockets. Your small business might not.

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