Family Sues Over Possible Mad Cow Exposure

SEATTLE - A woman whose family reportedly ate ground beef connected with the only known case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the United States has filed a class action against a supermarket chain, the Associated Press reports.

The negligence claim for unspecified damages against Quality Food Centers, Inc., owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger, Inc., was filed yesterday in King County Superior Court by attorneys for Jill Crowson.

The suit is thought to be the first involving the case of BSE that was found in late December in a slaughtered Holstein in Washington state.

According to the lawsuit, a recall order for beef connected with the cow was issued Dec. 23, the day the discovery was announced, but QFC didn't start removing the meat from about 40 stores until the following day.

Earlier this week the USDA admitted that the recall covered 38,000 pounds of beef, nearly four times as much as first announced, from the infected cow and from the meat of others that was mixed together during processing. One official said as much as 17,000 pounds probably was consumed or discarded by shoppers.

The only notice QFC shoppers received was when the stores began posting small signs starting Dec. 27, the lawsuit says.

Under the Washington Product Liability Act, QFC had "a duty to warn" buyers under the and could have done so via newspaper, radio and TV advertising and by notifying people who used QFC Advantage discount cards, wrote Steve W. Berman, Crowson's lawyer. He asked that the case be certified as a class action.

According to Berman, one of his investigators discovered the product bought by Crowson is purchased by QFC in large tubs, then reground and packaged for sale -- a process the lawyer said makes the chain subject to the state liability law.

Crowson said a butcher in the store where she bought the meat told her that the chain hadn't sold any of the recalled beef. On Jan. 10 she faxed a letter to the QFC asking that her purchase be traced through her grocery card, after reading a newspaper article about a family who ate the recalled beef.

The Crowsons are "now burdened with the possibility that they presently carry (a disease) that may have an incubation period of up to 30 years," the lawsuit says.

Scientists think that those who eat beef from infected cows can develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a deadly brain-wasting disease that has been diagnosed in 150 people around the world.

Federal officials have said that the risk from eating muscle meat from an infected cow is extremely low, but since there's no way to determine whether a living person has the disease, the Crowson family's "stress and fear cannot be allayed," according to the suit.
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