Suit: Woman got sick, "feared for her life" after feeding later recalled food to dog

By Andrew Thomason | Jun 27, 2014

An Illinois woman wants at least $75,000 from the makers of recalled pet food she claims got her sick after feeding her dog.

An Illinois woman wants at least $75,000 from the makers of recalled pet food she claims got her sick after feeding her dog.

Joanna Cygan and her husband, Cezary, both of Elmwood Park, filed suit June 23 in Chicago’s federal court against Diamond Pet Food Processors of South Carolina LLC.

Cygan claims she was one of many people exposed to and sickened by Diamond Pet Food that was tainted with a rare form of salmonella two years ago.

She fed Diamond Pet Food to her dog regularly in 2012, the complaint alleges.

After exposure to the pet food, Cygan asserts she began experiencing severe gastrointestinal discomfort, including vomiting and diarrhea," and her "condition deteriorated rapidly to the point where she could not move and she feared for her life."

Eventually Cygan’s exposure and contraction of the disease, the suit states, cost her an ambulance ride to Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, followed by an eight day hospitalization.

During what Cygan dubbed a “harrowing” hospitalization, her temperature hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit and she had to be sustained through an intravenous nutrition drip.

In 2012, according to the couple's complaint, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began to investigate an outbreak of a rare strain of salmonella, the same strain Cygan claims she was infected with after feeding her dog Diamond Pet Food.

She claims public health agencies began to zero in on the pet food producer following interviews with people who had this rare strain of salmonella.

Out of those surveyed, the suit alleges that 79 percent reported coming in contact with a dog in the week before they became sick, and 22 percent reported having contact with dry dog food from Diamond Pet Foods.

“The Illinois Department of Public Health ultimately concluded that the source of Plaintiff Joanna Cygan’s Salmonella infection was contaminated Diamond Pet Food's dog food,” the suit asserts.

Cygan contends her sickness was due to lax sanitary conditions at the defendant’s processing plant in Gaston, South Carolina.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected Diamond Pet Food’s Gaston production facility in 2012, which Cygan alleges revealed a litany of risky practices. For example, the suit states, there was no inspection to ensure incoming animal fat did not contain pathogens and there were not enough hand-washing and sanitizing stations in the plant.

The inspection, Cygan claims, showed “that the company utilized cardboard, duct tape, and other non-cleanable surfaces on equipment. These materials were observed to have residues adhering to them."

Her suit notes that the FDA also determined the defendant’s product sampling procedure did not take into account contamination after production and during storage.

Diamond Pet Food eventually issued a recall of several of its products as a result of the salmonella infection.

The Cygans' suit alleges that the defendant's failure to test its product prior to packaging and shipment, prevent cross-contamination in processing, train employees on proper techniques to prevent contamination and the implementation of a host of other safety procedures constitutes negligence.

It further claims Diamond Pet Food fraudulently misrepresented its products when it marketed its dog food as produced in a safe manner and safe for domestic pets.

The couple's complaint also includes counts for breach of implied warranty, breach of express wrranty, strict product liability and loss of consortium.

The Cygans are asking for compensatory damages, punitive and/or exemplary damages exceeding $75,000.

Attorneys Bart Torvik of Torvik Law LLC in Evanston and Brendan Flaherty of Pritzker Olsen in Minnesota filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Court documents show U.S. Judge Joan B. Gottschall on Wednesday entered a court order, setting a status hearing in the matter for Sept. 5.

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