The Recalled Food A New Lawsuit Is Blaming For A Pregnancy Loss

When family planning yields a hoped-for pregnancy, there's so much joy in the air that even mild morning sickness or an inconvenient craving may not do much to dampen your vibe. Same with having to abstain from whatever foods modern obstetrics professionals are advising pregnant women to avoid in 2022 (via Mayo Clinic). If only doing everything right could insulate you from forces outside your control. 

For better or worse, that's where torts litigation comes in, according to Cornell Law School. When you've been injured, and you can prove in a court of law that it happened due to someone's fault other than your own, then the court may be willing to award you civil remedies. Most often, those remedies take the form of money damages paid by the person determined to have been at fault. That can include payment for pain and suffering, loss of wages, and other less direct damages that are known in the legal world as "consequential damages" (per Upstate Lawyer). 

While litigation can't undo what's been done, it has nevertheless been known to help soften the blow. Perhaps that is what a Massachusetts woman is hoping for in filing a lawsuit in Florida federal court for damages suffered as a result of a second-trimester miscarriage, which she alleges was triggered by eating ice cream that, weeks later, became subject to a large-scale recall. It was possibly contaminated with the potentially pregnancy-terminating pathogen, listeria monocytogenes (via Tampa Bay Times).

It took several weeks for Hopkins to become ill

Kristen Hopkins was 11 weeks pregnant when she traveled to Clearwater Beach, Florida, with her husband and two children in May, per Tampa Bay Times. While there, Hopkins purchased ice cream at Beverly's Ice Cream store in the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. After returning home, with the uncertain first trimester now in the rearview, the family announced to friends and family they were expecting their third child, a baby boy whom doctors believed was healthy. 

Several weeks later, however, Hopkins began experiencing stomach cramps that quickly progressed to persistent diarrhea and severe headache. One morning in mid-June, Hopkins woke up "pale, shivering, and fatigued," and her husband, concerned, took her to the hospital. It was there that two things happened. The first is the couple learned their baby boy had died in utero. The second is Hopkins was now experiencing convulsions, along with continuing head and neck pain. Her condition worsened, and she was transferred to another hospital, where the deceased baby was delivered. It was determined Hopkins' condition was critical enough to merit intensive care. 

Several weeks after that, Big Olaf Creamery recalled all of its ice creams on suspicion of contamination with listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne pathogen known to cause miscarriage. Turns out Big Olaf supplies ice cream to Beverly's Ice Cream store at the Clearwater Hyatt.

Listeriosis can take weeks before symptoms manifest

Kristen Hopkins left the hospital in mid-June. On July 13, the FDA announced that Big Olaf Creamery's entire inventory of ice cream had been recalled after 23 reported cases of listeriosis in 10 states spurred an investigation by the CDC and other health officials, which investigation raised suspicions that Big Olaf ice cream might have been the disease vector. Big Olaf was informed of health officials' concerns on July 1, at which time it commenced recall protocol, including ceasing production and distribution pending further instruction.

By early July, the Creamery had not yet received any complaints, and none had been filed with the Florida Department of Health, and Big Olaf took to Instagram to say "nothing has been proven." However, by July 16, health officials had announced that of 17 Big Olaf ice cream flavors they'd tested, 16 were found to be contaminated with the listeria bacteria in question, per Tampa Bay Times.

In addition, the Food Poison Journal reports that health officials found the bacteria in 10% of the samples taken from Big Olaf's manufacturing equipment. However, it is believed that the bacteria in question may have been present long before investigators were able to connect the recent listeriosis cases to the ice cream and Big Olaf Creamery's ice cream in particular. One reason is listeriosis's long incubation period. It can take up to 70 days before symptoms present.

What's at stake in this tainted ice cream debacle

As of August 4, the CDC reported that this particular listeriosis outbreak has affected 25 people, 24 of whom had been hospitalized, and one of whom had died. The family of the deceased, Mary Billman, who died in January, 11 days after consuming Big Olaf ice cream, has filed a wrongful death suit (per the law firm of record, food-safety specialists, Marler Clark).  Hopkins' pregnancy loss was not specifically mentioned in the CDC's report, but the report unequivocally points out that listeriosis can cause "miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and life-threatening" symptoms in affected babies who survive birth. 

"The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns," the CDC states, in addition to "older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions (like diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, and HIV). Rarely, people without these risk factors are affected." Although pregnant women rarely become severely ill with listeriosis, it happened in the case of Kristen Hopkins, who showed signs of meningitis, a known complication of listeriosis, per the CDC. According to the lawsuit, Hopkins "has not fully regained her strength and is emotionally distraught over the traumatic loss of her baby" (via Tampa Bay Times). At this time, it has not been disclosed to the public the specific amount of damages Hopkins, who is joined in the lawsuit by her husband, is seeking, but they've requested a jury trial.