As bandwidth grows, so does a law practice

Ed Poll
Daily Record Newswire

For plaintiffs, there is often strength in numbers. One bad implant is a good case, but a group of plaintiffs injured by faulty implants is a really good case.

The question is how to amass enough plaintiffs to get from good to really good and beyond. The answer is the Internet.

“We have gone from being a local law firm to being a national law firm, and the only way we could do that is the Internet,” said Fred Pritzker, whose Minneapolis firm handles products liability cases and food-borne illness cases.

A recent outbreak of salmonella allegedly from food sold by Chipotle restaurants illustrates the process.

Starting on Sept. 2, salmonella cases were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, and its investigation traced the outbreak to tomatoes sold at various Chipotle locations.

The health department issued a news release on Sept. 10. But news reports preceded that release. The Pritzker firm became involved early on. “We look at information coming from the government, the Center for Disease Control, and newspaper accounts,” Pritzker said. “We are leading food safety lawyers and rely on word of mouth, referrals and out Internet presence.”

The firm filed Wickstrom v. Chipotle Mexican Grill on September 14 in federal court in Minnesota on behalf of a White Bear Lake woman. On its website and on its blog, the law firm PritzkerOlsen invites those who became ill after eating at a Chipotle to contact one of its lawyers.

Two other cases have been by Seattle attorney William Marler, appearing pro hac vice with Minnesota attorneys Joe Flynn and Vicki Hruby. Mohawk v. Chipotle was filed on September 16 and Beck v. Chipotle was filed on September 11. Marler also has a strong Internet presence and encourages would-be plaintiffs to call.

The complaints include claims for strict product liability — manufacturing defect, negligence, negligence per se for violations of state and federal law and breach of implied warranty. They have been assigned to Judge Ann Montgomery.

Pritzker also publishes the Food Poisoning Bulletin. “We put out news not just saying hire us, we provide authoritative information,” he said. It advises people how to report an illness, provides information on outbreaks and recalls, and keeps readers up to date on food safety news, such as the 28-year sentence handed down to Stewart Parnell, who was convicted of multiple felonies after a salmonella outbreak was traced to his company, the Peanut Corporation of America. Nine people died in that outbreak. Marler publishes a newsletter called Food Safety News.

But before the case is put in suit, the firm does its own triage, Pritzker said. “Many more people think they have food-borne illnesses than actually do,” he said. One complication is that the symptoms of food poisoning may be the same as many other gastrointestinal illness, he said.

Many people who become ill recover with no lasting effects, but some suffer complications or die from the disease. Young children, the elderly, and those with another health issue are the most vulnerable, Pritzker said. Generally, salmonella makes the person sick for about five days.  It is less virulent than some food-borne illnesses but since it occurs more frequently it is more likely to be fatal, he said.