Thursday, May 23, 2013
ALFRED — An Old Orchard Beach man is the first person in Maine to sue Hannaford Bros. for being sickened in a salmonella outbreak that was linked to ground beef sold at its grocery stores in late 2011.
Kenneth Koehler was one of the 20 people sickened with salmonella by Hannaford ground beef a year ago.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
Kenneth Koehler, who was one of 20 people who got sick from the tainted meat, filed a complaint against Scarborough-based Hannaford on Thursday in York County Superior Court.
A man in upstate New York filed the first lawsuit in the case, over a year ago.
Koehler, 53, is seeking compensation for pain and suffering from the illness, which he said caused severe vomiting and diarrhea for three days before he went to an emergency room.
He told the Portland Press Herald last month that he had accrued $8,000 in medical bills for gastrointestinal problems that persisted for months after the illness. He would not say how much money he is seeking from Hannaford, other than that it is "well under six figures."
On Friday, he said he has tried to negotiate a settlement with Hannaford but not gotten an offer he would accept. "It's frustrating," he said.
Koehler is at least the second person to sue Hannaford after being sickened in the outbreak that led the company in December 2011 to recall ground beef from its 181 stores in five states.
Brian DiGeorgio of Watervliet, N.Y., who said he was hospitalized for two weeks and lapsed into a coma because of the illness, filed a lawsuit a week after the recall.
His attorney, Benjamin Hill in Albany, N.Y., said last month that the lawsuit was ongoing.
Hill is also representing other people who were sickened in the outbreak and are trying to negotiate settlements with Hannaford out of court. He would not say how much money any of his clients is seeking.
A search of electronic court records did not turn up any other recent lawsuits against Hannaford regarding contaminated beef.
Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom declined to comment on Koehler's lawsuit Friday, saying the company does not discuss pending litigation.
If federal investigators had been able to trace the tainted meat back to its supplier, Hannaford probably wouldn't have been responsible for compensating people who got sick, say lawyers associated with the case.
But Hannaford's records, which met federal requirements, did not contain enough information to allow investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service to identify the origin of the contamination.
The case, which was the subject of a special report by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, published in March, drew attention to the discrepancy between records needed for federal food safety investigations and those required by the government -- a gap in the system that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had known about for 15 years.
Hannaford has since improved its record-keeping beyond what is federally required.
The USDA plans to propose a rule to require all grocery stores to keep better records of the beef they grind.
The proposal was listed last month as one of more than 200 regulatory actions that the USDA plans to send to the White House Office of Budget and Management for review.
A summary of the rule, the full version of which is not yet available, indicated that the department plans to publish a formal proposal in the Federal Register in February, which would mark the start of a two-month public comment period.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: