Costco and Oregon berry grower sued in class actions over hepatitis A

Posted on: June 25th, 2013 by Steve Larson
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CerealCostco Wholesale Corp. and an Oregon berry grower were hit with lawsuits Monday in California state court by consumers who ate a frozen fruit blend linked to a multistate hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened dozens.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that at least 30 people have been sickened in five states. The illnesses may be caused by consumption of the fruit blend, made by Townsend Farms Corp. and sold at Costco.

Townsend has been targeted by at least two suits in California state court. One suit, which also targets Costco, was brought by a California resident who allegedly contracted hepatitis A after eating the product, known as Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.

The woman, Lynda Brackenridge, was hospitalized Friday after she experienced vomiting, yellowed eyes and skin, and fatigue, according to her complaint. She was still in the hospital and was being kept in isolation so she does not contaminate other patients, Monday’s complaint said.

Brackenridge’s complaint includes claims for strict products liability, negligence and breach of implied warranties.

Another suit is a proposed class action filed against Townsend by another California resident, Jacob Petersen, who claims he was forced to pay for an immunization against hepatitis A after consuming the fruit product.

The proposed class includes all consumers who were required to immunize themselves against the disease after eating the product. Petersen estimates that the class could include more than 10,000 people.

Representatives for Costco and Townsend could not be immediately reached for comment on the suits. According to the CDC, Townsend has not recalled the product, though according to one complaint, Costco has pulled it from its shelves.

As of Friday, consumers in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado had become ill in connection with the outbreak. Nine people have been hospitalized, according to the CDC. Officials are investigating whether the products were sold at stores other than Costco.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last for months. The strain seen in the outbreak is typically found in Africa and the Middle East, not the Americas, although an outbreak in Canada last year was linked to a frozen berry blend from Egypt, according to the CDC.

The Brackenridge case is Brackenridge v. Townsend Farms Corp. et al., case number BC510633, in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County.

The Petersen case is Petersen v. Townsend Farms Corp. et al., in the Superior Court of California, Orange County. The case number was not immediately available.