By Chris Wright, The News On 6
LOCUST GROVE, OK -- More than a dozen people sickened during a massive E. coli outbreak are now suing the restaurant they say is responsible.
341 people fell ill, 70 were hospitalized, and 26-year-old Chad Ingle of Pryor died. Those involved in the lawsuit say the Country Cottage in Locust Grove is responsible.
In a news release, the lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Mayes County District Court on behalf of twelve families.
"Many of us regularly entrust restaurants with our health and safety," said the families' attorney, William Marler. "There are stringent rules and regulations that restaurants must follow, because any deviation from those rules can cause illnesses. Sadly, this outbreak shows how very wrong things can go, and how much suffering can result."
It's been a while since Royal Dunn could take advantage of pleasant weather. The retiree lives in a secluded park near the Arkansas border, but he spent 50 days in the hospital last year.
"It took four months to get back here after I got sick. It's been a struggle, been a struggle," said Royal Dunn, E. coli victim.
The struggle began in August 2008 after Dunn says he ate at the Country Cottage. Within a week, he was hospitalized and slipped into a three-week-long coma. His liver, kidney and digestive system shut down, and his family was told he probably wouldn't make it.
"When your kidney's shut down, that's life-changing. You can't conduct life the way you want to live. I'm just fortunate my kidneys started working again," said Royal Dunn.
While recovering, and learning to walk again, Dunn ran up nearly half a million dollars in medical bills. His insurance company paid for the majority of it, but he would like Country Cottage to cover the rest.
Dunn, along with 13 other E. coli victims, filed a lawsuit Wednesday. They want to be reimbursed for medical expenses and are also seeking punitive damages.
"These fourteen people collectively spent 250 days in the hospital, 84 of them on dialysis for kidney failure," said Marler. "Their medical bills are almost $2 million, not to mention ongoing medical care that many will continue to need. Our job is to make sure that they don't struggle to carry that immense burden by themselves."
And while he's back to making the most of his retirement, Dunn says his life will never be the same, and Country Cottage should be held at least partially responsible for that.
"Step up to the plate, take care of your responsibilities, and get on with your life," said Royal Dunn.
While the state Health Department was never able to pinpoint the exact source of the outbreak at Country Cottage, the victims' lawyer says that doesn't mean the restaurant isn't liable. Country Cottage's lawyer was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Marler Clark has represented victims of every major foodborne illness outbreak since 1998.