Parents set to take action for compensation following E.coli outbreak

After one of the most heavily publicised E.coli outbreaks occurred in the UK earlier this year, the petting farm at the centre of the incident has recently reopened – albeit partially. Godstone Farm in Surrey closed during September 2009 following a series of reports concerning E.coli infections in people who had visited the farm, which had been open to the public for some considerable time before the outbreak. However, as the number of people infected grew to 93, concern was raised as to how the farm had handled the incident. Furthermore, the manner in which some of the earliest cases were dealt with by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has also come under scrutiny.

Speaking to the BBC news service, Mark Nethercoate described the handling of the affair as a cause for great concern, not least because when he contacted the HPA after his daughter suffered kidney failure as a result of contracting the E.coli bug, he was informed that his was the first report of its kind since August. However, the BBC has since been informed by two families who had visited Godstone Farm that their children were diagnosed with E.coli several months before the HPA made the decision to close it. Furthermore, the farm itself has been criticised by parents in so far as it remained open throughout the outbreak until it was officially closed, despite the fact that during this time the number of infections being linked to the farm increased sharply.

The area of the law that deals with potential claims that may arise from such incidents is essentially the same as those dealing with all other personal injury or negligence claims. In fact, whilst the HPA conducts its own investigations into the affair, which left a number of small children on dialysis in hospital, some parents have chosen to take more immediate and direct action. Indeed, at least one family has already contacted personal injury solicitors in response to the outbreak with the aim of establishing whether or not there is a case for negligence. Although the steps involved in determining whether any such incident is likely to prove successful for the claimant are fairly convoluted, the basic principles of negligence law dictate that Godstone Farm owed parents and their children a quite specific duty of care. The issue as to whether this duty was breached is a matter that personal injury solicitors are competent to investigate.

Regardless as to whether any negligence case against Godstone Farm can be successfully argued in court, it is important that the general public is made aware of the potential benefits for pursuing claims against defendants who have seemingly caused them (or a family member for which they are legally responsible) harm. Indeed, whilst some families will be content that the HPA is conducting its own investigation into how the outbreak was managed, a more direct route to redress is available through the courts.

A negligence claim is typically the most effective measure that can be taken when such an incident occurs, as not only would compensation prove beneficial to claimants in a financial sense, especially where serious injuries require long term medical treatment, but it also provides a stark warning to others that care must be taken to avoid causing such harm. In this way, many companies have learnt from previous outbreaks of E.coli, which include the holidaymaker who received £750,000 in compensation after suffering kidney failure from an E.coli contaminated burger.

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