What is Listeria Meningitis?

Listeriosis meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. If your loved one has been diagnosed with this severe illness, it means he or she ate food contaminated with deadly bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Yes, your loved one is sick because a company sold unsafe food.

Attorney Eric Hageman and his team recently won $4.5 million for a young man who was sickened in this way. Tragically, he suffered permanent disability. You can use the form below to contact Eric and his team for a free consultation and find out about getting compensation and justice.

We are not paid unless you win. Submitting this form does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Listeriosis is the food-borne illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. These bacteria are particularly deadly because, after they colonize (mulitply) in the intestines, they can easily move, via the blood and tissue, to other parts of the body, including the brain. These pathogens are small enough to breach the blood-brain barrier and cause meningitis, an infection of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria from CDC
This is an electron micrograph of a Listeria bacterium in tissue. It is particularly deadly because it can easily travel to the brain and infect the meninges, the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

This form of meningitis presents itself differently than other types because the bacterium can directly invade the cerebral cortex, posing additional complications. For example, seizures are often more frequent. It can be a long road to being able to walk and communicate well again.

Our lawyers have helped many people who suffered permanent brain damage get compensation from corporate wrongdoers who sold contaminated food.

Image of Brain

Poisoned by Food Contaminated with Listeria

This severe illness is caused by contaminated food. Past outbreaks have been caused by smoked salmon, soft cheese, raw milk, raw milk cheese (even hard varieties like gouda), sprouts, deli meat and prepackaged caramel apples.

When the contaminated food is eaten, the bacteria can grow in the intestines and then move to other parts of the body, including the brain. It can take up to 70 days for the bacteria to make a person sick. This is called the incubation period, and it is particularly long, making it difficult to find the source of these outbreaks.

Sometimes there is a recall of the food product that caused the outbreak, sometimes not.

Can I Sue For Listeria Meningitis?

Yes, you can sue for Listeria meningitis if there is evidence to prove your illness was caused by contaminated food. These lawsuits can be filed against a food processing company, distributor, retailer (even companies like Walmart and Costco, depending on the facts of your case) and other businesses. It is never acceptable to sell food tainted with deadly bacteria.

Read more: “Listeria Lawsuit: 5 Reasons You Should Sue for Listeriosis Now.”

Listeriosis Meningitis Complications

Complications can be fatal or lead to permanent disability, even such severe brain damage that the person is unable to communicate or take care of basic needs. Complications can include the following:

  • brain stem damage
  • impairment of consciousness
  • seizures
  • brain abcess
  • hydrocephalus
  • cervical cord compression (spinal injury related to hydrocephalus)

This is related to sepsis.

Sepsis Symptoms and Diagnosis


Hydrocephalus is a condition in which fluid is accumulated in the brain.  It was once known as “water on the brain,” but the fluid is actually cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) — a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

The accumulation of fluid puts pressure on brain tissues, resulting in brain damage. In most cases, even if the person with hydrocephalus survives, the effects are lasting.

When contaminated food results in hydrocephalus, both the victim and his or her spouse have claims against manufacturer (and others), if there is evidence pointing to a specific food as the source.

Attorneys at Pritzker Hageman successfully represented a man who developed meningitis and hydrocephalus from contaminated food. The 56-year-old man ate contaminated deli meat.  The result was hearing loss, dementia, gait disturbances, diminished cognitive abilities and incontinence.  In other words, he was not the man he had been.


High fever, headache, and stiff neck are common symptoms in anyone over the age of 2 years. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. This means that once the symptoms begin, they may develop quite quickly. This does not mean that the symptoms will manifest themselves within several hours of eating food contaminated with Listeria bacteria. The incubation period for this infection is generally between 11 and 70 days, meaning a person could eat contaminated food and not get sick for two months.

Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect, and the infant may only appear slow or inactive, or be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly. In one case where a 3-month-old baby had listeriosis meningitis, the baby screamed for days and then began having seizures. If a baby is born with listeriosis, it is often a few days before symptoms develop.


Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately. The diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid is obtained by performing a spinal tap, in which a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal is readily accessible. Identification of L. monocytogenes as the bacteria responsible is important for selection of correct antibiotics. There is a concern about the efficacy of some antibiotics given the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of foodborne pathogens.

It is important that treatment be started early in the course of the disease. Appropriate antibiotic treatment should reduce the risk of death, but the fatality rate is still around 70%.

Journal Articles

  • Roed, Casper, et al. “Long-term mortality in patients diagnosed with L. monocytogenes meningitis: A Danish nationwide cohort study.” Journal of Infection 64.1 (2012): 34-40.
  • Lavetter, Allan, et al. “Meningitis due to L. monocytogenes: A review of 25 cases.” New England Journal of Medicine 285.11 (1971): 598-603.
  • Mylonakis, Eleftherios, et al. “Listeriosis during pregnancy: a case series and review of 222 cases.” Medicine 81.4 (2002): 260-269.
  • Kessler, Susan L. M.D.; Dajani, Adnan S. M.D. “L. Meningitis in Infants and Children.” Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 9.1 (1990): 61-62.


Our law firm represented people sickened in the following outbreaks:

    • Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. – In 2015, at least 12 people from 6 states contracted listeriosis in an outbreak linked to Dole bagged salad made at the company’s Springfield, Ohio, processing facility, according to the CDC: Indiana (1), Massachusetts (1), Michigan (4), New Jersey (1), New York (4), and Pennsylvania (1).
    • Karoun Dairies, Inc. – One woman had a miscarriage and one adult died in an outbreak linked to soft cheeses distributed by Karoun Dairies, Inc. of San Fernando, California. People in nine states were sickened from 2010 through the summer of 2015, according to the CDC: California (14), Colorado (1), Illinois (1), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (1), New York (2), Ohio (1), Tennessee (1) and Washington (1).
    • Blue Bell Creameries – The final numbers from the CDC are 10 people from 4 states are part of the outbreak linked to Blue Bell Ice Cream products. People were sickened over a period of years, ending in 2015: Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3).

The above cases have been settled. Please contact our law firm regarding these cases (1-888-377-8900) and ask to speak with attorney Eric Hageman.

Free Lawsuit Evaluation

Our Listeria lawyers have represented several families in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against companies that sold contaminated food. In one outbreak, we represented 3 families and won a total of $6 million. Contact Attorney Eric Hageman to find out if you can sue a corporate wrongdoer.