First lawsuit in Chincoteague food poisoning filed by Pa. man

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- A Pennsylvania man filed a lawsuit in Accomack County seeking $500,000 from a Chincoteague business that at a festival served clam chowder authorities say was tainted with salmonella.

Chincoteague is famous for the wild Chincoteague ponies and its annual Pony Penning, where Saltwater Cowboys round up the ponies and auction off some of the foals.

Charles Coffield of West Alexander, Pennsylvania became ill after eating the chowder at the Chincoteague Chili Chowder Cook Off, according to the lawsuit, which Marler Clark and Regan Zambri Long, a Seattle, Washington law firm that specializes in foodborne illness cases, filed on his behalf this week against Shrimp Heads Inc. in Chincoteague, Virginia.

He is asking for a jury trial.

Coffield ate one sample and one bowl of clam chowder made and sold by the restaurant at the festival on Sept. 30, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, he began to feel ill, including suffering from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, chills and lightheadedness, the lawsuit states.

Coffield ended up being taken by ambulance to Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital in Onley, in Accomack County on Oct. 3.

He continued to experience symptoms for weeks afterward and missed several days of work, the lawsuit stated.

Test results showed Coffield's illness was caused by a salmonella infection, and the result was reported to Accomack County and the Virginia Department of Health.

About 180 people reported becoming ill after the event, according to the Eastern Shore Health District.

Most of those stricken were Virginia residents, followed by Maryland residents.

Additionally, cases were reported from Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina residents who attended the event.

Around half of those who reporting becoming ill after the festival sought medical care, with 20 percent receiving emergency room care — 10 percent were hospitalized for one or more nights. No deaths were reported.

The health department on Oct. 24 identified the chowder served by the establishment as the source of the salmonella outbreak.

An Eastern Shore Health District official said the incident was a "point-source outbreak" and the food item is safe now.

"The risk of illness was only one day, one place, one group, one thing," said Dr. David Matson, explaining the technical term.

Matson is director of the Eastern Shore Health District.

He demonstrated his confidence by traveling to Chincoteague on Oct. 26 to eat a bowl of the same chowder at the restaurant.

"The risk is gone," he said.

Coffield in the lawsuit claimed the business had a duty to use supplies and raw materials that complied with food laws and regulations; to use reasonable care in making and selling the chowder to keep it free from Salmonella adulteration; and "to use reasonable care in the selection, supervision, and monitoring of its employees, suppliers, or other subcontractors" — and that it "breached this duty."

It was the first time in memory a food poisoning outbreak resulted from a temporary food health district employee, could not recall anything similar.

"So, this is rare, it's unfortunate and it was one time," Matson said.

A Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company spokeswoman said the company plans to continue to hold the annual event, with extra safety precautions.

Delmarva Now


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