Raw milk farmer Michael Hartmann goes to jury trial over E.coli O157:H7

From David E. Gumpert, on the Complete Patient blog:

“The court suit by a  family alleging that a young boy became ill from Minnesota farmer Michael Hartmann’s milk in May 2010 seems headed for a jury trial.

The judge in the case rejected the family’s request for summary judgment–acceptance of its case–and instead encouraged the parties to seek a mediated settlement. Such a decision is apparently not unusual if there is any disagreement of the facts, as there is in this case.

Assuming mediation doesn’t work, the case is scheduled to go to trial in October. As a number of people said in comments following my previous post, Hartmann would seem to face daunting odds, since the evidence linking his farm to the child’s E.coli O157:H7 is so strong, and could wind up a big loser. Our legal system holds food producers responsible if their food is shown to cause illness.  

I spoke briefly with a lawyer representing the family of Owen Caldwell, the boy who became sick, and he said the boy was seriously ill. “The child was on the brink of death,” Michael Hutchens said. “He was on his death bed.”

The boy has since recovered, “and is doing fairly well.”

He suggested that the family isn’t seeking a huge settlement with Hartmann. Rather, it’s the family’s position that the boy “has some compensation coming,” based on the severity of the illness and the genetic linkage between the E.coli 0157:H7 found in the boy and on the Hartmann farm. “They’re not out to villify Hartmann.”

He said Hartmann has been pleading poverty. “Unfortunately, he (Hartmann) did not have insurance.” He accused Hartmann of spending significant sums of money unnecessarily on legal bills, such as $9,000 for a transcript of the case he lost against the state a year ago over the embargo of his products, so he can file an appeal.

Among Hartmann supporters, one of them, Will Winter, wrote after the court session about “looking at the silhouette of the lone farmer MIKE HARTMANN going up against the establishment ALL BY HIMSELF. It was a sight to bring tears to anyone who has tried to raise or produce healthy food for a too-oft ignorant public.”

Winter is a veterinarian and one of the original founders of Traditional Foods Minnesota, the Minneapolis food club shut down in June 2010 by Minneapolis and Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials. So it’s understandable that he is sensitive to government intrusions that threaten our food.

However, this legal case has been undertaken by a family, not a government agency….”

Read it all on the Complete Patient blog.

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