Md. woman files suit over father's listeria death

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Catonsville woman who said her 87-year-old father died from listeria is suing a Colorado farm and Texas distributor.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court against Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo., and Frontera Produce of Edinburg, Texas, the cantaloupe producer and distributor. It was brought on behalf of Donna Kay Wells Lloyd, the daughter of Clarence Wells, a retired printer for the Department of Defense.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that as many as 17 deaths have been linked to listeria in cantaloupes and more than 80 people have become ill after eating Colorado cantaloupes. Jensen Farms recalled its cantaloupes Sept. 14 after the farm's melons were linked to the outbreak.

Listeria generally only sickens the elderly, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems. The CDC said the median age of those sickened is 78 and that one in five who contract the disease can die from it. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, often with other gastrointestinal symptoms.

According to the suit, Wells ate cantaloupe on multiple occasions in the weeks before he fell ill and died, including one listeria-contaminated cantaloupe manufactured, distributed and sold by the defendants. His symptoms began around Aug. 23, when Lloyd noticed that her father began to gain weight from retained fluids and two days later he had trouble breathing, according to the suit. After Lloyd took her father to a hospital, his condition deteriorated and he died on Aug. 31.

On Sept. 12, Lloyd received a letter addressed to her father from the Baltimore County health department that confirmed that a blood sample taken the day Wells died tested positive for listeria. County and state health officials later told Lloyd that the strain that infected her father was indistinguishable from the one involved in the nationwide outbreak, according to the suit.

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses the defendants of breaching their duty to sell reasonably safe food and says Wells was injured because of their acts and negligence.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said late Friday that no other cases of listeria have been reported in the state.

Associated Press writer Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.

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