First lawsuit filed in outbreak linked to sprouts

RYAN J. FOLEY Associated Press Published:

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- An Iowa woman sickened by eating tainted sprouts filed a lawsuit Tuesday against sandwich chain Jimmy John's, the first stemming from a recent outbreak of a foodborne illness linked to the restaurant.

Heather Tuttle, 27, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Des Moines seeking damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering. She became ill with E. coli poisoning after eating a turkey sandwich with sprouts from a Jimmy John's restaurant in West Des Moines on Jan. 3. Tuttle eventually required a series of medical treatments for the illness, which included excruciating cramps and diarrhea.

Tuttle is one of 12 people in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin -- all female -- whose recent E. coli poisoning has been linked to raw clover sprouts served at Jimmy John's. The illnesses occurred between Dec. 25 and Jan. 15. Two of the victims were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that a preliminary investigation identified a common lot of clover seeds that were used to grow the tainted sprouts. The CDC said the seed supplier had warned sprouting facilities to stop using them.

A spokeswoman for Jimmy John's, which is based in Champaign, Ill., said the company had no comment.

The lawsuit claims the recent outbreak is the fifth of either E. coli or salmonella poisoning since 2008 linked to sprouts served at Jimmy John's. More than 400 customers across the country have been sickened. A spokesman for Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm that specializes in food safety cases, said Tuttle's lawsuit is the first from this specific outbreak but the firm is also representing other customers who were sickened.

Tuttle's lawsuit seeks to hold Jimmy John's liable for selling "unreasonably dangerous" food and negligence for failing to comply with health and safety laws.

Federal regulators warn against eating raw sprouts, which are one of the most frequent perpetrators of foodborne illness. Though they are often touted as a health food, sprouts grow in warm and humid conditions, which encourage bacterial growth.