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County Fair Sued Over E. Coli Petting-Zoo Death

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A toddler's death from E. coli has led to a lawsuit claiming he, and hundreds of others, were sickened by a deadly strain of the bacteria at a North Carolina fair's petting zoo.

E. coli O157:H7 kills approximately 60 people each year, according to the CDC. Parents Joshua and Jessica LeFevers believe their son Hunter contracted his fatal infection due to the unsanitary conditions at the Cleveland County Fair in 2012, reports ABC News.

What potential liability could the fair face, and how can you avoid contracting deadly infections from animals?

Allegedly Diseased Petting Zoo

The LeFevers claim they visited the Cleveland County Fair petting zoo less than two weeks before their son succumbed to his E. coli infection, reports Courthouse News Service.

North Carolina is no stranger to petting zoo E. coli deaths; an outbreak at the state fair in 2004 led to more than 100 illnesses. The next year, legislators passed "Aedin's Law," named after a child who died from infection transmitted at a petting zoo, requiring all petting zoos to have, among other things, hand-washing facilities.

An attorney for the Cleveland County Fair told ABC News that the fair's petting zoos were properly inspected and found to be in compliance with the laws, including Aedin's Law.

Negligence and Wrongful Death

The LeFevers are suing the Cleveland County Fair for negligence, stemming from its alleged failure to provide their son the hand-washing facilities that might have prevented his lethal E. coli infection.

The family is likely suing under a theory of wrongful death, where the family of a deceased person (in this case their son Hunter) may sue on behalf of that person if they believe the defendant's misconduct was responsible for the death.

Hunter's parents, and indeed any plaintiffs, stand the best chance of winning their case if they can prove negligence per se -- an automatic finding of negligence based on the zoo's failure to follow state laws relating to health and safety.

Whether the applicable laws were broken and led to Hunter's death is a matter of fact for the court to decide.

How to Avoid E. coli Infection

While direct contact with animal feces bearing E. coli O157:H7 is more common at petting zoos, you can still encounter this deadly bacterium in meat, certain vegetables and raw milk.

A pediatric infectious disease physician reminds parents and kids to be diligent about washing their hands, and to remember that hand sanitizer won't be effective if there is "dirt or debris" on your hands, reports ABC News.

Even if the law doesn't mandate hand-washing stations, washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly is never a bad idea, especially after visiting a petting zoo.

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