DES MOINES, Iowa – A lawsuit accusing two Iowa farms at the heart of a recall of 550 million eggs linked to salmonella illnesses of safely negligence has been filed and is seeking class-action status.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Chicago on behalf of six people who became ill after eating eggs produced at Wright County Egg near Galt, Iowa, and Hillandale Farms of Iowa, near New Hampton.
It said the farms "failed to adequately and properly test, inspect and comply with federal and statutory regulations ... so the eggs were safe."
The farms have been the subject of scrutiny in recent months after more than 1,500 people got sick from eating eggs from the farms. A Food and Drug Administration inspection found many possible sources of salmonella contamination at both farms, including rodent and wild bird infestations, uncontained manure, holes in walls and other problems. The FDA also found positive samples of Salmonella Enteritidis.
This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said its investigators had obtained records showing Wright County Egg, owned by Austin "Jack" DeCoster, received 426 positive results for salmonella between 2008 and 2010. The committee has scheduled a hearing on the recall for next week. A spokeswoman for DeCoster, Hinda Mitchell, has indicated DeCoster will attend.
Mitchell and Hillandale spokeswoman Julie DeYoung both declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the companies were reviewing it.
The lawsuit claims Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms were negligent in not producing eggs safe for public consumption and suggests that the actual number of people who became ill could far exceed the number already reported. No dollar amount was specified in the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the farms "failed to utilize and/or implement a reasonably sterile environment in the manufacture of eggs; and failed to manufacture eggs in a reasonably safe condition for public consumption."
Ken Moll, an attorney for the Chicago law firm representing the plaintiffs, said the court on Thursday granted their request to inspect the farms to gather evidence. Moll said those inspections would occur later this month and the first week of October.
The six plaintiffs include a 69-year-old woman from Orland Park, Ill.; a 48-year-old woman of Gulfport, Miss.; a woman whose age wasn't given from Greensboro, N.C.; a 67-year-old man from New Windsor, N.Y., a woman whose age wasn't given from Pittsburgh; and a woman from Carmel, Ind., whose daughter became ill.
Moll's firm is seeking class-action status for the case because the claims of the plaintiffs are similar; to avoid the risk of "inconsistent and varying" judgments and establishing incompatible standards of conduct for defendants.
The lawsuit indicates that one woman is receiving medical treatment, while the man from New Windsor, N.Y., who became sick about Aug. 13, remains hospitalized.
Moll said the goal of the lawsuit is to recover damages for illnesses suffered by the plaintiffs, to establish a medical monitoring fund so every consumer may be tested and treated for the adverse side effects of Salmonella Enteritidis and to reimburse plaintiffs for money paid for the contaminated eggs.
Eggs from Wright County Egg were sold to distributors in 22 states and Mexico, the lawsuit states. Eggs from Hillandale Farms were distributed in 14 states.