Our instruction came mainly as a result of Jill Greenfield’s experience in dealing with E. coli cases having previously acted for a young boy who suffered serious brain damage following a school trip to an Open Farm.
Exposure to E. coli O157 for young children and the elderly is lifethreatening. Of those children infected by the bacteria 22% went on to suffer kidney complications and a number of those children are at risk of requiring renal support/transplants in later life.
There are various strains of E. coli, many of which we carry and which are harmless. Unfortunately E. coli O157 is a deadly strain which attacks the kidneys and for which there is little treatment. Conservative management can help to avoid the progression of the bacteria but in general the bacteria will run its course. Notably antibiotics have little effect and can make the situation rather worse.
E. coli O157 is not generally found in humans but rather is carried by farm animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. These animals are more likely to be carriers of the bacteria and can become sporadic shedders. Generally the bacteria will be present in their faeces. Ingestion is hand to mouth and so there must be contact with infected animal faeces for the bacteria to be spread. Once a person is infected they themselves can pass on the bacteria to others via the same route.
Proceedings were issued in June 2010. This followed the publication of the Griffin Inquiry which was highly critical of Godstone farm and the Health Protection Agency’s response to the outbreak.
Areas of critical concern were:
- Children were allowed to enter the pens of animals and feed them. The children were therefore in direct contact with the animals and so too their faeces
- The farm operated a deep bedding system which meant that the straw was lain on top of straw without it being changed for extended periods. This would lead to a build up of faecal material and given that the children were walking on this straw again exposure to faecal material was of primary concern
- The families were not made clearly aware of the presence and risk of E. coli O157 and so were not aware that additional precautions were essential in relation to handwashing. Nor were they given an informed choice as to whether to allow their children onto the farm given the very grave risks.
In June 2010, we issued proceedings against the farm on behalf of Todd and Aaron Furnell, twins who were exposed to E.coli O157. Both of the twins, now aged three, suffered kidney failure and spent weeks in hospital after being infected with the bacteria.
A full denial of liability was initially received. Following the disclosure of documents by the farm there followed an acceptance of responsibility and Judgement was entered on behalf of the children in March 2010.
The Claim now continues. The value of each case is now being assessed and careful consideration is being taken regarding the potential life long risk of renal failure that some of these children face. A number of the children we would expect will need to have a provisional damages award. That means that the child would receive some damages at this stage but more importantly would be able to re open their case if in the future the concerns regarding renal failure were to come to fruition. The claims would then be requantified taking into account the more serious needs.
Since the case a number of steps have been taken to ensure better safety on Open Farms. The Health and Safety Executive has issued fuller guidance to farm owners and in general parents have become more aware of the risks of E. coli O157. There have been calls for a national Approved Code of Practice for the Open Farm industry, something that has still yet to happen.
E. coli O157 has now become a notifiable disease and it is hoped that by doing so, cases will be logged more rapidly along with their source.
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