The 2013 multistate outbreak of hepatitis A virus infections linked to pomegranate seeds imported from Turkey had a lot of parts. It involved pomegranate arils in Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend frozen juice that sickened 165 people in ten states, sending 71 to hospitals. An upcoming October trial is also going to have a lot of parts, but it was made a little easier to follow on Monday when a federal judge in California combined multiple cases with approval of a class action certification. The class action, known as Jacob Petersen, et al vs. Costco Wholesale Inc., also includes Townsend Farms Inc., Purely Pomegranate, Fallon Trading Co. Inc.  and United Juice Corp. as defendants. PortTownsendberries_406x250The litigation was transferred from the California state court system to U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in August 2013.  Plaintiffs are alleging injuries in excess of $5 million for exposure to the hepatitis A virus (HAV) after consuming the frozen berry and pomegranate seed mix sold under the Townsend brand at Costco stores. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta first learned of the outbreak on May 13, 2013 in reports from the New Mexico Department of Health.  Shortly afterward, Colorado linked outbreak cases to the berry mix sold at various Costco stores in that state. Costco learned of the HAV outbreak on May 29, 2013, and immediately removed the product from sales shelves and notified customers in its database who’d purchased the product by phone and mail to warn them about the problem. Costco warehouse managers were also ordered to “pull and hold” the juice. Product recalls followed from Townsend Farms on June 3 or 4, and June 28; and by Scenic Fruit Company on June 26. Both are based in Oregon. Townsend said its expanded recall came “after the FDA and the CDC confirmed that the epidemiological evidence supports a clear association between hepatitis A illness outbreak and one lot of organic pomegranate seeds used in the Frozen organic Antioxidant blend subject to the voluntary recall.” Costco Pharmacies began offering HAV vaccinations at no charge, and 10,316 of its member customers took the company up on the offer. Costco also offered to reimburse members who were vaccinated by their own medical providers. The ten plaintiffs named in the class action are from nine states. Their legal team includes Marler Clark, the nationally known food safety law firm based in Seattle. “The defendants Purely Pomegranate, Fallon Trading and United Juice variously and respectively imported, manufactured, distributed, or sold the HAV-contaminated pomegranate arils that the defendant Townsend Farms used to manufacture the recalled products,” explains U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter. “In turn, the defendant Townsend Farms sold the recalled product to Costco for retail sale in its stores, which is where the recalled product that caused injury to the named-plaintiffs and class members was purchased. “ Judge Carter also explained that attorneys for the defendants argued “ that both the factual and legal circumstances surrounding consumption differ for each person, citing differences in the “amount of the Berry Mix one consumed, the length of time one consumed the product, the passage of time after consumption, and one’s unique medical history influence . . .” as well as the variance in the states’ legal standards concerning whether an individual ‘reasonably feared’ infection. “ The judge, however, ruled that “common elements exist.” On his personal blog, plaintiff attorney Bill Marler says: “Although it has been a long time coming, with much work done to get here, but today we finally received the court’s ruling on class certification, and the ruling was in our favor.” “The court granted our motion that asked it to certify what is called a “liability only” class action. This means that, for purpose of determining whether Townsend Farms and Costco are liable for damages caused by consumption of the contaminated berries, that question will be determined on behalf of the both the named plaintiffs and all class members,” he added. In addition to Marler’s  law partner, Denis Sterns, the plaintiff’s legal team includes California-based trial lawyers Adam T. Kent, Frederic L. Gordon, Mary M. Best, and Richard Ramsey Waite.   Each defendant has multiple attorneys from such major firms as Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland, Murchison and Cumming in Los Angeles, and Katten Muchin Rosenman in Washington,D.C. Needed Disclosure: In addition to publishing an award-winning legal blog, Marler also serves as publisher of Food Safety News. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)