SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Sarasota-based ice cream company faces another legal battle after a Massachusetts couple took them to court, alleging that a listeria outbreak attributed to them by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caused a miscarriage. Big Olaf Creamery and its affiliate are being sued for the miscarriage by the couple.
The lawsuit by Kristen Hopkins and her husband, Frank Imbruglia, is the second lawsuit against Big Olaf Creamery since the CDC first attributed the listeria outbreak to their frozen confections. The family of an Illinois woman who died while sick from listeria is also suing, claiming Big Olaf’s ice cream was the cause of her death, due to infection with listeria.
On July 2, the CDC said they had tracked a national listeria outbreak to the Sarasota company. Despite the warning over listeria from the CDC, Big Olaf has so far said, “Nothing has been proven” and that the accusations about the cause and source of the listeria outbreak are still “only speculation.”
In the Hopkins-Imbruglia lawsuit against Big Olaf, and their owner David Peachey, another company is also named. Beverly’s Ice Cream in Clearwater, which sold Big Olaf ice cream at its Gulfview Boulevard South location, is alleged to be the source of Hopkins’ listeria infection and subsequent miscarriage.
According to the complaint filed in Pinellas County court, Hopkins was one of “sixteen listeriosis cases” to occur in early 2022. The court filing said that in 2021, there were seven cases of listeriosis detected by the CDC. The same strain of the cases, all of which had been “clustered in Florida” emerged as health officials worked to “identify the common food source among the ill patients.”
Eventually, the CDC reported they had narrowed down the source to Big Olaf Creamery, in Sarasota.
Hopkins and Imbruglia allege that as a result of her infection with listeriosis, she was hospitalized and due to the illness, she is the mother of the “only fetal death caused by the outbreak.” According to the Hopkins court file, the couple and their two daughters, who are 5-years-old and 7-months-old respectively, had traveled to Florida in May for a wedding.
At the time, Hopkins was 11-weeks pregnant with the couple’s third child. While at the wedding, they stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Becah Resort. At the hotel, “was Defendant Beverly’s Ice Cream store.” The store “exclusively sold ice cream manufactured by Defendant Big Olaf.”
Hopkins’ complaint says the ice cream they purchased and ate from Beverly’s “was contaminated with the outbreak strain of the deadly pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.”
When they got home to Massachusetts days after the wedding, they announced their pregnancy to friends. The couple had announced the pregnancy to family at the wedding, as well. However, at the end of May, Hopkins “developed mild cramping coupled with persistent diarrhea.”
According to the CDC, Listeria is most likely to sicken pregnant people and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigues, confusion, stiff neck, loss of balance, and headaches.
The CDC said infection during pregnancy “usually leads to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.”
Over the days after Hopkins began experiencing persistent diarrhea and cramping, the lawsuit said her condition did not improve and her stomach pain became more intense. By mid-June, she was also getting “intense” headaches. A day later, Imbruglia drove her to the hospital after she woke up pale, shivering, and fatigued.
It was there the couple was informed that Hopkins had miscarried.
According to the lawsuit filing, Hopkins “was then transferred to a higher level hospital” while suffering from convulsions and intense head and neck pain. At the other hospital, Hopkins “was brought to the operating room where a doctor removed her baby boy from her uterus,” according to the court file. She was then taken to the intensive care unit for observation and treatment. Hopkins was also told she may require a hysterectomy due to her “critical” situation.
Blood cultures from Hopkins “proved to be positive for the Listeria monocytogenes.” The strain was matched to the outbreak reported on by the CDC. Hopkins remained in the hospital until June 17 before being discharged. Her treatment continued at home, needing an “IV antibiotic administered through a PICC line” and requiring “regular care from a home health nurse.”
Due to the “incalculable loss of her pregnancy; great physical pain and suffering; mental anguish; physical impairment; physical disfigurement; loss of enjoyment of life; medical and pharmaceutical expenses; emotional distress; lost wages; lost earning capacity; and other general, special, ordinary, incidental and consequential damages as would be anticipated to arise under the circumstances,” Hopkins and Imbruglia are suing Big Olaf and Beverly’s Ice Cream for $30,000 and demanding a jury trial.
The couple is represented in court by Scott W. Leeds of the Cochran Firm of South Florida from Plantation, Fla. and Ryan Osterholm of OFT Law from Minneapolis, Minn.
So far, 23 people have been infected with the strain of listeria the CDC found in products from Big Olaf Creamery. Of those, 12 are Florida residents, while others reported traveling to Florida before they became sick. Five of the patients who were ill were pregnant at the time of infection.
The Florida Department of Agriculture said it is still performing testing on the production facility for Big Olaf.
“The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has collected samples it is currently testing and conducted an inspection at the processing facility last week,” an FDACS spokesperson told WFLA reporter Allyson Henning. “FDACS continues to work closely with partner agencies regarding the situation.”
According to the Florida Dept. of Health, Big Olaf Creamery recalled their Sarasota products and stopped production on July 8.