Legal implications of zoonotic-disease outbreaks at petting zoos and animal exhibits.

AuthorBabcock, David W.
PositionLegal Briefs - Column

Editor's note: From April 2001 to March 2004, the Journal featured a Legal Briefs column that presented short case studies about legal issues important to environmental health professionals. Vincent Sikora, the author of Legal Briefs during that time, passed away in December 2003. Because his columns were well received by many of our readers and provided practical and relevant legal information, we decided to search for a committed columnist with the appropriate knowledge and experience to restore Legal Briefs. As a result of our search, we found several insightful and dedicated columnists: Bill Marler, Denis Stearns, Drew Falkenstein, Patti Waller, and David W. Babcock, all of the law firm Marler Clark. Their columns will appear in every other issue of the Journal.

The attorneys at Seattle-based Marler Clark, LLP, PS ( have developed a nationally known practice in the field of food safety. Marler Clark represents people who have been seriously injured, or the families of those who have died, after becoming ill with foodborne illness during outbreaks traced to restaurants, grocery chains, and other food suppliers. The attorneys have litigated thousands of food contamination cases throughout the United States, many of them high-profile, including the Jack in the Box and Odwalla E. coli outbreaks; the Malt-O-Meal, Sun Orchard, and Chili's Salmonella outbreaks; the Senor Felix Shigella outbreak; and the Subway and Chi-Chi's hepatitis A outbreaks.

David W. Babcock, the author of this month's installment, joined Marler Clark as the firm's senior litigation associate in 2001, Representing children and the elderly has been central to Mr. Babcock's practice at Marler Clark, where he focuses on litigation resulting from foodborne-illness outbreaks.

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston. The farmland that colonial settlers had occupied in my town had long since given way to housing developments and high-tech firms. I didn't grow up with exposure to livestock through family farms, agricultural fairs, and civic organizations as many other Americans do. Nevertheless, it is plain that livestock exhibitions are "as American as apple pie."

Unfortunately, these same exhibitions have occasionally been the sources of large outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. Outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7 at the North Carolina State Fair in 2004 and at three large public fairs in Florida in 2005 left more than 100 children ill, and dozens in life-threatening battles with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). (1)

The good news is that the recent outbreaks--and their attendant legal...

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