In E. Coli Outbreak Suit, One Faulty Traceback Report Did Not Undermine Other Traceback Reports or Experts Who Relied on Them

A beef slaughtering and processing company sold a container filled with two thousand pounds of meat and fat to a meat processing company. The meat processing company combined the meat and fat with meat and fat purchased from other companies, which it then ground and packaged into retail-size packages of ground beef. Two women purchased two of these retail packages of ground beef. Both women were infected with E. coli. The women sued the meat processing company.


The meat processing company filed third-party complaints against the beef slaughtering and processing company claiming that the E. coli tainted meat originated from it. The meat processing company sought indemnification, under common law and contractual theories, in the event the women prevailed in their suits. The meat processing company settled the women’s claims for a total of $500,000. The third-party claims were consolidated and went to a jury trial.


At trial, the plaintiff meat processing company introduced traceback analyses that its experts interpreted to mean that the contaminated meat could only have come from the defendant beef slaughtering and processing company’s meat and fat, not from another supplier's, evidence that an allegedly identical strain of E. coli was discovered in meat supplied by the defendants to another facility, and evidence that there were signs of unusually high contamination levels at the defendant's plant on the day it shipped the allegedly tainted meat to the plaintiff. Additionally, the plaintiff introduced the video deposition of the defendant’s former expert witness who said the defendant was a probable source of the tainted beef. The jury found that the defendant supplied beef containing E. coli to the plaintiff which was later consumed by the two women.


The defendant appealed arguing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the plaintiff’s submitted insufficient evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude its meat was contaminated and that its meat was included in the packages the women purchased. Specifically, one of the plaintiff’s traceback reports relied on an invoice that referred to a date outside the period when the contamination occurred. Alternatively, the defendant argued it was entitled to a new trial because the trial court erred in admitting the video deposition of the defendant’s former expert witness because the expert relied on the allegedly faulty traceback report.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the decision of the trial court holding that there was ample evidence to support a rational jury’s conclusion that the defendant was the source of the women’s E. coli infections. The alleged error in one traceback report did not undermine the evidentiary value of the other traceback reports or the experts who relied on them, nor did it undermine the evidentiary value of the plaintiff’s other evidence unrelated to the traceback report. Similarly, the video deposition of the defendant’s former expert witness was not undermined due to his reliance on the faulty traceback report because he prepared his own analysis based on a wide array of resources.


See: Long v. Fairbank Reconstruction Corp., 2012 WL 5871043 (C.A.1 (Me.), November 21, 2012) (not selected for publication in the Federal Reporter).