While we can probably agree that ice cream is not the healthiest food to consume, it is not something that should kill you in a matter of weeks after eating it one time. Unfortunately, this is what happened to a woman visiting her daughter in Florida. She ate ice cream and died less than two weeks later. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and received $4 million in damages.
The 79-year-old woman was visiting her daughter in January 2022. On January 18, 2022, she ate ice cream from Big Olaf Creamery. She died from a listeria infection 11 days later.
The woman was unaware that she had been infected with listeria. By the time she developed the symptoms, it was too late. She was gravely ill by that time. The woman died on January 29, 2022, in the emergency room at Memorial Regional Hospital South in Hollywood, as there were no beds available in the intensive care unit. She had been treated there for three days.
The woman is survived by her husband, three daughters, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Much of the damage award will go to medical bills, which totaled $89,689, and cremation costs of $1,220. The woman was the primary caretaker of her husband, who suffers from various health problems, including dementia.
The family sought punitive damages because it was determined that Big Olaf Creamery engaged in reckless conduct that was so egregious in nature that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the health and safety of others. This was proven through the fact that while the woman was the only person to die from listeria from the ice cream, she was not the only one affected.
Twenty-eight people in 11 states developed listeria infections. All except one required hospitalization. Seven victims were newborns or pregnant women, with one case of pregnancy loss.
The ages of the victims ranged from newborn to 1 to 92 years old. Half of them were female, half were male. Samples were collected from the infected patient between January 24, 2021, and August 19, 2022. All the samples showed a common strain of listeria monocytogenes — the same strain found on equipment at the Big Olaf Creamery’s production facility and in the ice cream.
Making matters worse is that Big Olaf Creamery was in denial over the situation. It initially refused to recognize that it was the cause of the outbreak. The company also refused to stop producing and selling ice cream.
Investigating the Case
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began its investigation in the spring of 2022. They found the outbreak strain of listeria on samples of ice cream and equipment. The pathogen was found in 10 samples from the production facility and 16 of 17 flavors of the ice cream. The state shut down the facility due to its findings.
On July 2, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised those with Big Olaf Creamery ice cream in their homes to throw it out. On July 13, 2022, Big Olaf Creamery issued a recall on all flavors and lots with expiration dates through June 30, 2022.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also conducted an investigation and, on Dec. 9, 2022, sent a warning letter to Big Olaf. The letter was regarding an inspection that ran from July 19 through Sept. 1, 2022.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then issued a warning letter citing numerous violations of federal food safety laws. Big Olaf’s owners had contracted with a third-party laboratory to conduct environmental swabbing. Multiple pieces of manufacturing equipment tested positive for listeria monocytogenes. Four swabs of finished product ice cream buckets also tested positive for listeria monocytogenes.
Big Olaf’s legal team did not have a food safety plan prepared, which is required by federal law. The firm provided a draft standard operating procedure document that showed how the company intended to address food safety hazards. However, this draft did not fully explain how they will control hazards in their ice cream products.
The civil lawsuit was filed in a Florida federal court in Florida by the woman’s husband. He sought unspecified damages for medical expenses as well as damages for the loss of his wife’s companionship and her role as his caretaker.
The case was based on strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty, with the lawyers claiming that the Big Olaf ice cream was contaminated with listeria, even though the creamery had a duty to sell food that was not contaminated with bacteria. Instead, the woman consumed dangerous foodborne pathogens, causing her death. The creamery breached its duty and was therefore negligent.
Contact Us Today
We trust that the things we eat from the store are safe for consumption. No reasonable person expects to die from eating ice cream. The wrongful death of a loved one due to food poisoning is a sad thing for a family to deal with. The team at Brill & Rinaldi, The Law Firm, can help you deal with the legal aspects during this emotional time. Call (954) 876-4344 or fill out the online form to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in Weston, Coral Gables, and Daytona Beach.