On November 22, a jury in Hennepin County found Dehn’s Pumpkins, LLC liable for failing to prevent the spread of E. coli. The owners did not provide hand-washing stations, claiming they had no idea that diseases could be transmitted from animals.
“The people who run the pumpkin patch are decent people,” according to attorney Fred Pritzker. “Its not that they were mean spirited. But, what they didn’t know caused a great deal of pain and suffering.”
In October 2013, at least seven people were infected with E. coli from cows at Dehn’s Pumpkins in Dayton, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
One of the victims was Emma H., a 10 year-old girl who was infected with E. coli O157:H7 — an especially dangerous strain that causes a type of kidney failure known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) in 5-10% of cases.
Emma was hospitalized for a month with life-threatening kidney problems. She also required surgery and near-constant dialysis. Lawyers say she has already lost 50% of her kidney function and is expected to need dialysis and a kidney transplant in her early 20s.
E. coli is a bacteria that is commonly found in cow manure. According to court testimony, manure was on the cows’ hides, hooves, and the gate through which children reached to pet and feed the cows. Thousands of pounds of manure was also in the enclosure.
“The interaction area consisted of a red metal gate that separated a cement-lined commercial feedlot housing 60 or more cows weighing approximately 700 lbs., each,” according to a statement from her lawyer.
While it is one of the largest jury verdicts ever awarded for E. coli, lawyers say the farm’s insurance does not have enough coverage to pay the entire verdict.