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Case Study

Success for Children exposed to E.Coli 0157 in Godstone Farm outbreak litigation

Field Fisher Waterhouse, the law firm representing 27 children who suffered serious health problems following exposure to E.Coli 0157 at Godstone Farm, has been successful in its group action...

Fieldfisher, the law firm representing 27 children who suffered serious health problems following exposure to E.Coli 0157 at Godstone Farm, has been successful in its group action against the farm. The firm has this week received confirmation from the farm that they will not be disputing liability in this case.  

In August 2009 over 90 children and adults suffered serious health consequences due to their exposure to E.Coli 0157 while visiting the farm in Surrey. The E.Coli 0157 outbreak was the largest ever linked to an open farm in the UK. 

E Coli 0157 is a particularly dangerous strain of e coli and can cause serious illness including renal failure and death in children under 5 and the elderly. It is specifically carried in farm animals and it was only discovered in 1975. It is a relatively new strain of bacteria and is distinct from the e coli that we all carry. It has to be ingested by humans and is carried in the gut of animals and consequently their faeces. It does not cause any illness in animals.

In June 2010, Fieldfisher partner Jill Greenfield issued proceedings in a group action against the farm on behalf of Todd and Aaron Furnell, twins who were exposed to E.Coli 0157. Both of the twins, now aged three, suffered kidney failure and spent weeks in hospital after being infected with the bacteria. Medical evidence obtained in the course of the litigation indicated that both Todd and Aaron have impaired kidney function. Medical evidence gathered so far suggests that some of the children  are at risk of renal failure which could lead to dialysis and the need for kidney transplants in future years.

One of the main arguments against the farm centred on the fact that small children visiting the farm were allowed to enter the pens of animals. A deep bedding system was in operation which meant that straw was piled on top of other faeces contaminated straw. Such straw would have remained in place for many weeks. It was the Claimant’s case that toddlers were therefore put into direct contact with animal faces at close quarters, which could then be on their clothes and shoes, not just their hands.

The farm initially defended the claim, despite the publication of the Health Protection Agency’s report, The Griffin Inquiry, into the outbreak which found there were numerous failings in the way in which the farm handled the outbreak and in its appreciation of the risk associated with E.Coli 0157.

Today’s confirmation by Godstone Farm that it will not be disputing the claim applies to all of the children represented in the group action who were exposed to E.Coli 0157 between 8 August and 4 September 2009 and have suffered personal injury and consequential loss as a result. The level of financial support awarded to the families involved will be decided at a later hearing at which the court will approve any damages to be awarded.

It is understood that the farm intends to pursue a claim for indemnity/contribution against Tandridge District Council and the Health Protection Agency.

Jill Greenfield said: “Godstone Farm’s confirmation that they will not contest the claim is a welcome decision for all families involved in the outbreak and an important step in recognising the danger that E coli 0157 poses to young children. To have toddlers seriously ill on dialysis, as many parents did, is simply horrific. Many of the children now have compromised kidney functioning. We will only know the long term implications when the children get older. Only then will it become apparent whether or not their kidneys can continue to cope as they grow. These families live with the long term worry that at some point in their life their children will develop a life threatening complication such as  kidney failure because of a fun day out to a farm.”

The twins mother Tracy Mock said: “I am very pleased that we have been successful in this case. As a family we have suffered significant pain and distress and may still not know for many years to come the long-term consequences for the twins’ health. In the light of the farm’s decision, we can take comfort in the fact that Todd, Aaron and the other children affected by this will have the financial support they need to deal with their current health problems and any that arise later in their lives.”