SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Consumers slapped Walmart, Sam’s Club and Taylor Farms, one of nation’s largest producers of salad greens, with a class action Monday night for selling E. coli-tainted lettuce that has sickened people in 25 states and killed one person in California.
Lead plaintiff Rick Musgrave, of Martinez, California, claims Taylor Farms and Walmart exposed tens of thousands of consumers to tainted romaine lettuce and refused to recall all of the potentially contaminated produce.
Taylor Farms, based in Salinas, California, produces dozens of fresh produce products, including ready-made salad packs that feature romaine lettuce. It sells those salad packs and fresh greens at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores across the country, according to the complaint.
Musgrave says he and his wife became violently ill after eating romaine lettuce they purchased at a Walmart in Martinez. Co-plaintiff Margaret Grey says she also fell ill after eating romaine lettuce she bought at a Sam’s Club in Oxnard, California.
Exposure to E. coli bacteria can cause stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and in some cases lead to kidney failure and death.
Sam’s Club recalled seven Taylor Farms romaine lettuce products on April 15. All of those products were “ready to eat” pre-packaged salads, according to the lawsuit.
Walmart posted a notice about the E. coli contamination on its website but failed to offer refunds or post any notices about the contamination in its stores, according to the complaint.
“As a result of defendants processing, manufacturing, distributing and selling Taylor Farms’ products with romaine lettuce without taking proper precautions, defendants placed in the stream of commerce products that are unusable, unsafe, and have caused purchasers and consumers of those products to suffer or potentially suffer illness, as well as the loss of monies,” the 26-page complaint states.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the recent E. Coli outbreak to Yuma, Arizona, where Taylor Farms grows its crops during the winter months.
While the lawsuit claims the tainted lettuce has sickened people in 25 states, the CDC says the outbreak has sickened 149 people in 29 states, with 64 hospitalizations and one death in California.
The CDC identified another Yuma-based lettuce grower, Harrison Farms, as the sole source of lettuce that sickened several people at a correctional facility in Alaska. The center is still investigating where in the supply chain – growing, harvesting, packaging, or distribution – the outbreak occurred.
The complaint accuses Walmart and Taylor Farms of breaching the implied warranty for its products, false advertising, negligence and violating California’s consumer protection laws.
The plaintiffs seek nationwide class certification, punitive damages, restitution, and legal costs.
They are represented by L. Timothy Fisher of Bursor & Fisher in Walnut Creek, California.
Taylor Farms and Walmart did not immediately return emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday morning.