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Michigan Family Claims Wendy’s E. Coli Outbreak Left Daughter with Permanent Brain Damage

— April 18, 2024

Court documents indicate that the West Michigan restaurant had been repeatedly cited for health code violations in the days preceding the 11-year-old girl’s visit.

A Michigan family has filed a lawsuit against the owner of several Wendy’s restaurants, claiming that poor sanitary conditions caused an E. coli breakout that left their 11-year-old daughter with permanent brain damage.

According to FOX News, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of plaintiff Joy Lamfers and her daughter, Aspen Lamfers. The complaint names Meritage Hospitality Group as a defendant.

Thomas Worsfold, an attorney representing the family, told FOX News Digital that Lamfers’ injuries are both evident and severe.

“To see the drop-off in her abilities […] and the damage that’s done to her brain that’s irreversible—it’s really, really hard on everybody,” Worsfold said Digital. “It hit me so hard imagining what I would do and how I would feel if this were my child, who went from reading above her grade level to two grades below from one year to the next, and going from a 70th percentile score […] in math to the 9th percentile.”

The complaint states that, in August of 2022, Aspen and her mother went to a Wendy’s restaurant in Jenison, Michigan, just outside of Grand Rapids. There, Aspen Lamfers ordered and consumed a “Biggie Bag” meal, which came with a hamburger, chicken nuggets, and french fries.

But, several days earlier, the restaurant had received a shipment of romaine lettuce—lettuce that had been shipped to different Wendy’s locations across the region, and which was later found to have been contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which investigated the outbreak, said that the same contaminated lettuce had caused 109 E. coli infections in six different states.

Of those infections, 67 were reported within Michigan.

Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

Although restaurants owned by different companies received the same contaminated lettuce, the Lamfers family notes that the Ottawa County Health Department inspected Meritage Hospitality’s Jenison-area Wendy’s on July 22, 2022—issuing more than a dozen health code violations, and forcing the outlet to temporarily cease all operations.

Despite the closure, attorneys claim that Aspen—whose meal contained no romaine lettuce—was still served food infected by E. coli.

On August 4, less than three days after her meal, the girl was taken to a local emergency for treatment of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and bloody stool.

Doctors quickly determined that Lamfers was suffering from a severe E. coli infection, which had induced hemolytic uremic syndrome—a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that can damage the kidneys and cause clots to form throughout the body.

Aspen was soon moved to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, but the infection progressed to attack “her pancreas and her brain.” Lamfers’ illness was so serious that Aspen repeatedly lost consciousness and, at times, reported hallucinations.

“She had significant brain swelling, suffering seizures while in the hospital, [and] she had left-sided paralysis,” Worsfold told The New York Post. “[…] It’s almost a miracle she survived.”

On August 11, the same day that Lamfers was taken to DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Ottawa County Health Department again visited the Jenison restaurant—and issued yet another series of code violations, citing the presence of spoiled food, unclean cooking utensils, and generally unsanitary premises.

Although Meritage Hospitality Group has since denied “any wrongdoing or failure” with respect to its “food safety practices,” Worsfold claims that the C.D.C. has already linked Aspen’s illness with the 2022 E. coli outbreak—the effects of which Worsfold seems to suggest could have been curtailed had the defendant adhered to industry-standard practices.

“It’s important to know that [Aspen Lamfers’ illness] was a particular part of this outbreak,” Worsfold said. “Hers was included […] by the C.D.C. as part of this E. coli outbreak. Even though she didn’t eat the lettuce, she still got sick because of the unsanitary [conditions] and blatant disregard for basic safety practices at this restaurant.”


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Michigan girl’s contaminated Wendy’s meal left her with permanent brain damage, lawsuit claims

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