Two years later, $2.5M awaits kids sickened by Reno's worst-ever E. coli outbreak
See what RGJ Editor Kelly Scott learned from allowing a Washoe County environmental health specialist inspect her kitchen. Wochit
More than two years after they got sick from eating E. coli-tainted chocolate mousse cake at two Reno restaurants, six children are now awaiting a Washoe judge to approve their financial settlements, according to court records.
The six Reno-area children were all plaintiffs in a lawsuit that followed Washoe County's worst-ever E. coli outbreak that also sickened two other children and 17 adults.
The outbreak started in October 2015 when the tainted dessert was prepared in a mixing bowl that had been used to process raw meat at Reno Provisions. The cake was later served at Heritage, located inside the Whitney Peak Hotel, and South Reno's Twisted Fork.
Owner Mark Estee later closed Reno Provisions. Estee was a managing partner at Heritage, located inside the Whitney Peak Hotel. The hotel management later closed the restaurant and leased it to its current occupant, Roundabout Grill.
Twisted Fork is still in business and has passed all of its restaurant inspections since the 2015 outbreak with no violations, according to Washoe County Health District data.
In all, the children will get $2.5 million — 90 percent of that shared between two boys who had extensive stays at the UC Davis Medical Center to treat their injuries, according to court records.
Estee did not return requests to be interviewed for this story. A representative with Twisted Fork and victims of the outbreak also declined comment.
Brent L. Ryman, who represented Reno Provisions, said several lawsuits were initially filed by victims of the outbreak in 2015 and 2016. Those lawsuits were later consolidated into one case that ended in financial settlements without the need for a trial. The settlements with the adults who got sick are private and did not require a judge's approval.
"I was certainly pleased that we were able to get a global resolution and there was sufficient insurance coverage," Ryman said.
He added, "All of the defendants were obviously saddened that it happened. Once we got everybody on board we were able to talk it through and reach an immediate resolution. Everyone is happy to put it behind them at this point.”
A little more than half of the settlement money will go directly to the children in the form of structured settlements or pre-paid college tuition. The rest was for medical and legal costs, according to court records.
Two of the boys developed serious kidney complications because of the E.coli infection, said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who represented nine of the plaintiffs in the case.
E. coli usually results in severe diarrhea, often bloody, and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the worst cases, a patient can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome — a complication that can lead to kidney failure and death.
Marler's law firm is known for litigating food safety cases around the country, including representing more than 100 people in the 1993 E.coli outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants that also killed four children.
In an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal, Marler said E.coli outbreaks in restaurants have been less common in recent years thanks to better food safety regulations that followed the 1993 outbreak.
"This is sort of a bigger outbreak than we’ve seen on average over the last decade," Marler said of the Reno Provisions case. “Fortunately, it was not hundreds of people, but it could have been.”
Marler said fewer people are getting sick at restaurants nowadays thanks to the reporting system that county health departments around the country adopted in the 1990s that required doctors to report E.coli cases.
"The person who is sick is interviewed," Marler said. "Then you start to build what the Washoe Department of Health did: common denominators.They ate at one of two restaurants. And they ate this chocolate dessert."
Judge Jerry Polaha is overseeing the case and needs to sign off on the children's settlements because they are minors.
Checks are expected to be cut for the kids by July, according to court records.
*This story was updated after its initial publication to reflect clarifying information about the history of Heritage in the Whitney Peak Hotel.