I help people harmed by Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium found in contaminated raw seafood, particularly oysters. Raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus can cause food poisoning. In most cases, the Vibrio poisoning victim suffers vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
In people with weak immune systems, however, Vibrio food poisoning can cause sepsis, where the bacterium enters the bloodstream, where it can impair organ function and cause severe hypotension (extremely high blood pressure). Sepsis is often fatal. People with chronic liver disease are at highest risk of developing sepsis and septic shock (defined as sepsis with hypotention) from Vibrio.
Are restaurants legally responsible for Vibrio poisoning?
A number of states require restaurants serving raw oysters to warn customers about the dangers of Vibrio vulnificus. Those warnings are (or should be) on menus and/or placards posted within the restaurant. If a restaurant failed to provide warnings about the dangers associated with Vibrio vulnificus or provided insufficient information about those dangers, customers harmed by Vibrio vulnificus may have a claim against the restaurant or its supplier for the harms and losses suffered as a result of this horrible infection. If a customer dies from Vibrio poisoning, the family may have a wrongful death claim against the restaurant.
In order to be effective, a warning has to be conspicuous, understandable and provide sufficient detail about the hazards and dangers that will follow if the warning is not heeded. That’s particularly important in the case of Vibrio vulnificus, a condition with which most people are unfamiliar.
How common is Vibrio vulnificus infection?
I have handled several cases of Vibrio vulnificus food poisoning and very recently settled a wrongful death case for the family of a man who ate raw oysters at a restaurant and then died. There are generally about 100-200 cases of Vibrio vulnificus reported to local, state and federal health officials each year, but the CDC believes it is under reported. Most cases occur in the Gulf Coast States, primarily Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi.
How do persons get infected with Vibrio vulnificus?
People get Vibrio vulnificus poisoning by eating raw seafood, including raw oysters (most common), clams and mussels. Most cases occur in the summer. People with weak immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease, are at risk for serious cases of Vibrio vulnificus poisoning when they eat raw seafood. A recent study showed that people with these pre-existing medical conditions were 80 times more likely to develop Vibrio vulnificus bloodstream infections (sepsis) than were healthy people.
Some tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infections from contaminated sea food include the following:
- Do not eat raw oysters, clams mussels or other raw shellfish (just because something is served at a restaurant doesn’t mean it is safe for you to eat).
- Cook shellfish thoroughly.
- For shellfish in the shell, either a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for 5 more minutes, or b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for 9 more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least 3 minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375°F.
- Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
- Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
Attorney Fred Pritzker represents food poisoning victims nationwide and have won millions for their clients.