Shore restaurant not liable for leg amputation after raw shellfish consumption

     Freshly harvested clams. (Public domain image)

    Freshly harvested clams. (Public domain image)

    A federal judge has ruled that a Jersey Shore restaurant is not liable for a patron’s leg amputation after she ate raw shellfish and contracted a serious bacterial illness. 

    Maureen Horan of Pennsylvania dined at Avalon’s Windrift Hotel Resort on July 30, 2010. She ordered the “Jersey Shore Sampler” and consumed three raw clams harvested from the Great Bay, according to court documents. 

    On August 1, 2010, Horan began feeling ill and was subsequently diagnosed with Vibrio vulnificus sepsis infection and fasciitis, leading to an above-the-knee amputation of her left leg and several arm surgeries, a court filing said. 

    That sparked a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Camden. An expert testifying for Horan said unsanitary conditions sparked her illness and subsequent amputation. Another expert testified that poor handling led to an increase in the bacteria.

    Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria naturally occurring in raw shellfish that sickens about 45,000 people annually as the result of eating contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    Most experience mild symptoms and recover within a few days. But in people with compromised immune systems, it can lead to amputations and be life-threatening. According to court documents, Horan was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, an iron disorder that requires abstaining from raw shellfish, after her hospitalization. 

    A health inspector issued violations relating to the raw bar during a visit on August 12, 2010, according to court documents. But the restaurant said the inspector visited when the raw bar was not in active use and had not yet been cleaned from the previous day. 

    In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb ruled that the unsanitary handling argument was “not sufficiently tethered to facts or data,” the New Jersey Law Journal reported. 

    Bumb said that the plaintiff didn’t show evidence that the clams were delivered with consumable levels of the bacteria, leading to a bacteria spike due to poor handling, according to the report. 

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