Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Tainted chicken sold to markets by Foster Farms left a West Covina woman afflicted with a medical condition in which she rapidly lost feeling in her limbs and had to undergo a lengthy rehabilitation, her attorney told a jury Wednesday.

Lawyer Daniel Balaban said the Guillain-Barre syndrome his client acquired in late December 2011 can be directly attributed to campylobacter commonly found within the intestines of chickens. Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of food poisoning.

In his opening statement to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of Ruth Rivera’s products liability/negligence lawsuit against the chicken processing company, Balaban said Rivera and her husband, Leo Lopez, preferred Foster Farms over other brands of chicken sold at their local markets.

“It was a brand they trusted,” Balaban said, noting the artwork on the packaging suggests it comes directly from a farm.

But Foster Farms attorney Sharon Collier said Rivera has not presented so much as a receipt to prove she ate Foster Farms chicken shortly after Christmas 2011 as she claims. Collier also said Rivera could have become ill from other sources of campylobacter since it is found in other such foods as raw eggs, shellfish and turkey.

Collier said the USDA heavily regulates Foster Farms and daily staffs 40 inspectors at the company’s main plant in Livingston.

“Foster Farms not only meets the standards, but exceeds the standards set by the government,” Collier said.

But according to Balaban, a large number of the millions of chickens processed by Foster Farms at its Livingston plant each year are adulterated because of a lack of precautionary steps to reduce the chance bacteria will be present in the chickens when they are shipped to market.

Rivera became sick with diarrhea shortly after she ate a meal of Foster Farms chicken and by early January 2012 had lost feeling in her arms and legs, Balaban said. Doctors at the hospital where she was treated determined that she had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a medical condition that includes a quick onset of a weakening of the limbs, Balaban said.

Balaban displayed for jurors some photos of Rivera in a hospital bed while being treated for her condition.

Before becoming sick, Rivera spent considerable time caring for the couple’s special needs child, but she also had time to pursue her hobby of playing the guitar, Balaban said. She can no longer perform with the instrument, but has shown determination in battling her affliction, Balaban said.

“She’s worked very hard to get where she is today,” he said.

Balaban said there is no doubt that campylobacter is at the root of Rivera’s medical problems.

“Both sides agree what made Ms. Rivera this way was this bacteria,” Balaban said.

The lawyer told jurors he will ask them to assess both compensatory and punitive damages against the company for allegedly not taking sufficient steps to make sure the chicken that Foster Farms supplied to stores was safe to eat.

“The company knew about this form of bacteria, they knew it was dangerous and they knew it was the cause of foodborne illness,” Balaban said.

But Collier said it is far from certain not only how the bacteria infected Rivera, but also when. She said Rivera has given conflicting time periods as to the time she first experienced any signs of illness.

“What we have is many different stories from Ms. Rivera,” Collier said.

Rivera and her husband, who is suing for loss of consortium, filed their case in December 2013.

City News Service

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