$7.55 Million Jury Verdict Entered for Minor Who Contracted E. Coli Infection at Petting Zoo

A 10-year-old girl, identified as E.H., was with her family at Dehn’s Pumpkins, a Minnesota pumpkin patch. The facility included a petting zoo in which children could pet the cows housed in a feedlot behind a metal gate. E.H. spent some time feeding the cows.

Several days later, E.H. began suffering fever, cramps and diarrhea. When her symptoms worsened, E.H.’s parents took her to a hospital emergency room where the staff diagnosed an E. coli infection.

The E. coli infection led to hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a severe complication that results when toxins from the bacteria enters the patient’s bloodstream and finds its way to the kidneys.

Although E.H. did recover, she sustained permanent kidney damage, including a 50% loss of kidney function. She will likely require dialysis and a kidney transplant in the not-too-distant future.

E.H.’s past medical expenses totaled nearly $300,000 with her future medical expenses estimated to be about $2 million.

In addition to E.H., six other people who visited the pumpkin patch around the same time also became ill by the same E. coli infection.

E.H.’s parents, on her behalf, sued the owners of Dehn’s, alleging that it failed to keep patrons safe from diseases that cows can transmit.

E.H.’s parents maintained that Dehn’s owners should have taken steps such as placing hand-washing stations near the animal enclosures and posting warnings alerting patrons to the risk of bacterial contamination.

In this lawsuit, E.H.’s parents presented evidence that on the day they visited, there was manure in the enclosure where the cows were kept as well as on the hay, the cow’s hinds and hooves and that the gate that separated the children from the cows was also contaminated. E.H.’s parents claimed the owners took no precautions and provided no hand sanitizers other than what was at the concession stand.  The expert public health veterinarian testified that the proper facility design would have prevented E.H.’s infection.

In addition to medical expenses, pain and suffering, E.H.’s damages included her lost future earning capacity based on an expert nephrologist’s testimony regarding how dialysis and kidney transplant would limit E.H.’s employability.

Dehn’s pumpkins owners testified that they were unaware diseases could be transmitted to patrons visiting the petting zoo and that most small pumpkin patch operators were similarly unaware. That sounds very much like an excuse, not a defense.

The defendants also asserted that because they provided alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the property, they satisfied any duty to prevent the spread of E. coli. This hand sanitizer, they argued, was just as effective as hand-washing. The defendants also argued that E.H.’s chaperones knew that the hand sanitizer was available and important but chose not to make sure that E.H. used it before eating.

The jury signed a verdict of $7,550,000, which included $3 million for lost future earning capacity; $2 million for past medical expenses; $2 million for future pain and suffering; and $250,000 for past pain and suffering, emotional distress and embarrassment.

Before posttrial motions, the parties settled the case for the policy limits plus interest and costs.

The attorneys successfully representing E.H. and her family were Fred Pritzker, Brendan Flaherty and Lindsay Lien Rinholen. At trial, the E.H. family presented experts in public health veterinary medicine/animal exhibit and petting zoo safety and lifecare planning.

Heidish v.  Dehn’s Pumpkins, No. 27-CV-14-1706 (Minn. Dist. Ct. Hennepin County).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, medical device product defect cases, premises liability lawsuits and nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Oak Park, River Grove, Schiller Park, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Arlington Heights, Orland Park, Clarendon Hills, Evergreen Park, Chicago (Hermosa, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Little Italy, Wicker Park, Jefferson Park, Edison Park, West Ridge, Andersonville), Itasca, Bensenville and Joliet, Ill.

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