Listeria Outbreak: Woman who miscarried files lawsuit against Big Olaf Creamery

A second lawsuit has been filed against the Sarasota-based ice cream company linked to a listeria outbreak. A pregnant Massachusetts woman says she nearly died and suffered a miscarriage after getting the illness. 

According to her lawsuit, she's one of a number of people who got sick after eating ice cream from Big Olaf Creamery. The woman and her family were in Clearwater Beach for a spring wedding. While visiting, they ate Big Olaf ice cream.

"She went home to Massachusetts," said her attorney Ryan Osterholm with OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers. "She got the great news that she was pregnant with a boy."

But a few weeks later, Osterholm said that she got seriously ill, needed I.V. antibiotics, and almost died. Osterholm said they found out she tested positive for listeria and that her baby was dead. 

A CDC investigation began connecting the dots. They found that 23 people in 10 states were infected with the same outbreak strain. Nearly all live in or traveled to Florida, and six reported eating Big Olaf ice cream or at a place that might've sold it.

The woman who died, 79-year-old Mary Billman of Illinois, got ice cream at Big Olaf's on Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota.

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"These people didn't have any idea what was happening to their mom and their wife until it was really too late," said Billman's family attorney Bill Marler with The Food Safety Law Firm.

Billman's family and the woman who lost her baby are now both suing Big Olaf Creamery.

"My clients are not only devastated that they were sick and that they lost a child, but the reaction by Big Olaf, I mean, just kind of the cavalier nature of, you know, well, ‘prove it,’" Osterholm said. 

While Big Olaf has not responded to requests for comment, on Facebook, they call the investigation for possible listeria contamination "only speculation." They question why they're being "targeted," but they say they are cooperating.

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"No one is out to get Big Olaf. This is where the science led them," Osterholm said. "This outbreak was going on for over a year. And frankly, it's only because they did this whole genome sequencing on the listeria that they knew that all these people got sick from the exact same place."

While there's no current FDA recall of Big Olaf products, some independently owned locations are now opting to switch brands. One in St. Armands Circle has reopened, saying they are temporarily discontinuing sales of Big Olaf ice cream and switching to Yoder's Southern Creamery. In Venice, they've switched to Hershey's. 

Osterholm says his client is still out of work and still recovering, mentally and physically.

"It's tough to hear these stories," Osterholm said. "And it's even tougher when they know that this was preventable. We want to find out what happened. We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Big Olaf Creamery did voluntarily contact retail locations to recommend against selling their ice cream products while the CDC urged anyone with their ice cream at home to throw it out. The Florida Department of Health is conducting its own investigation.