Owner of UK E. coli petting zoo being sued for 2009 outbreak tries to blame health-types; judge says no

In August and September 2009, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at Godstone Petting Farm located near Surrey in the U.K. resulted in 93 illnesses, including 76 children less than 10-years-old. Seventeen of these cases, all children, suffered the most severe complications of E. coli O157:H7 infection, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), requiring intensive hospital care, and eight of these children underwent dialysis and may face long-term kidney damage.

An investigation into the outbreak revealed the main animal barn of the farm as the source of E. coli, with a high proportion of fecal samples from animals in this e.coli.twins.petting.zoo.09barn testing positive for E. coli. There was also evidence of wider environmental contamination, indicating risk of infection from both indirect and direct contact with animals.

Twin brothers Aaron and Todd Furnell were aged two when they visited Godstone Farm with mother Tracy Mock over the August bank holiday weekend in 2009.

They were struck down with E. coli, along with their older sister and more than 90 other people, and were in hospital for weeks having dialysis after suffering from kidney failure.

Their mother, from Paddock Wood in Kent, is suing farm owner Jacqueline Flaherty for damages.

get Surrey reports Ms Flaherty tried to shift blame onto the HPA and district council saying they were aware of the outbreak before her and did not do enough to protect visitors.

But judge Mr Justice Turner said Ms Flaherty had “no reasonable grounds” for her argument and ruled that the authorities did not owe a “blanket duty of care” to the farm’s visitors even if they had been exposed to a risk of injury.

He said: “Mere knowledge on their part of an outbreak or potential outbreak from the farm falls far short of giving rise to an assumption of responsibility, whatever Ms Flaherty may or may not have known.

“Ms Flaherty, in contrast, owed an incontrovertible private law duty to her visitors to take reasonable steps to keep them reasonably safe.”

The twins’ damages claims against Ms Flaherty will now proceed to a full trial unless any settlement terms are agreed before then.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/petting-zoos-outbreaks.