Chipotle Hit With First Suit Following E. Coli Outbreak

The Product Safety & Liability Reporter™ provides updates on significant developments and issues in product safety and liability litigation and regulation, plus analysis from top litigators. Get...

By Julie A. Steinberg

Nov. 3 — A Washington woman says she was infected with E. coli from eating a burrito bowl served at a Vancouver Chipotle restaurant, in what her attorney says is the first suit stemming from a recent outbreak linked to the chain.

Charmaine Denise Mode developed severe gastrointestinal distress symptoms a few days after she ate the meal in mid-October, according to her Nov. 2 complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Her illness was linked to an outbreak that's been traced to Chipotle restaurants, she alleges.

Ryan Osterholm of PritzkerOlsen in Minneapolis, one of Mode's attorneys, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 3 he's not aware of other suits filed yet, and said his firm is also investigating other potential claims.

Chipotle is “proactive, closing stores, but they have had three outbreaks in three months,” Osterholm said, referring to a Salmonella outbreak and a Norovirus outbreak.

“That's part of the reason we filed suit, to figure out what's going on,” he said.

“There's no indication that they won't improve, but there is a need to improve,” Osterholm said.

E. coli illness is preventable, he said: “This shouldn't happen, this shouldn't be in food.”

Chipotle doesn't comment on pending litigation, company spokesman Chris Arnold told Bloomberg BNA in a Nov. 3 e-mail.

Chipotle Closes 43 Locations

Shiga-Toxin producing E. coli (STEC) can be found in a variety of foods.

In mid-October, the Washington and Oregon Departments of Health began noticing an uptick in STEC cases, Mode alleges.

Genetic testing found that all of the patients were sickened by E. coli bacterium with indistinguishable genetic patterns, she alleges. This meant they were all sickened from the same source.

Epidemiological trace-back implicated Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon as the source of the outbreak, her complaint says.

On Oct. 31, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in the two states as the outbreak was investigated, the complaint says.

The Vancouver restaurant where Mode ate is currently closed, Osterholm said.

At least 22 confirmed cases of STEC in Washington and Oregon have been linked to the Chipotle outbreak. This number is expected to rise, Mode alleges

Mode raises counts of strict liability, negligence, breach of implied warranty and negligence per se for violations of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in selling an adulterated product.

Chipotle has been involved in several foodborne illness outbreaks in the last several years including a 2015 Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota; a 2015 Norovirus outbreak in California; a 2009 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Colorado, Utah and New York; and a 2009 outbreak of Campylobacter in Minnesota, according to Mode's complaint.

DiamondMassong PLLC and PritzkerOlsen P.A. represent Mode.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie A. Steinberg in Washington at mailto:%20jsteinberg@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeffrey D. Koelemay at jkoelemay@bna.com

The complaint is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Mode_v_Chipotle_Mexican_Grill_Inc_Docket_No_315cv05790_WD_Wash_No.