Chicken salad purchased at Costco, which turned out to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, has ravaged the life of a 20-year-old Utah woman who’s had to give up her lifelong goal of acting on Broadway.

Attorneys for Chloe Rodgerson Monday sued the Seattle-based Costco Wholesale Corp. in U.S. District Court for the Central Division of Utah, seeking a jury trial to determine monetary damages for claims involving strict liability and negligence. She became ill after eating contaminated chicken salad purchased by her father in October 2015 at the Costco store in Lehi, UT. Her medical bills have already topped $2 million.

Diagram of a dream
Before she was infected with E. coli O157:H7 from eating the chicken salad, Rodgerson’s life was dedicated to the performing arts, beginning at age 5. It included training and performing at the Hale Theater Youth Academy in Salt Lake City and continued with training with actor-director Brittni Smith in voice, acting, directing, musical theater and improvisation. She was cast for several school productions, including playing the lead role of Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web.”

She went on to take voice lessons and additional training at the Utah Conservatory of the Performing Arts, again being cast in several plays and doing several commercials and advertisements by the time she entered high school.

The teenager then enrolled at the Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts in American Fork, UT, to focus on musical theater, dance and acting in addition to core classes. During summers she was involved in theater productions in New York, Los Angeles, Telluride, CO, and throughout Utah at the Tuacahn Theater in St. George, The Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, and on several Utah university campuses.

Rodgerson was featured in the Keith Merrill firm “Twelve Dogs of Christmas II.” In 2014, she went from being a film intern for the movie “Warpigs” to being hired as a paid production assistant. She was also the lead singer in three bands and was the principal talent in the T.C. Christensen film “Love Kennedy.”

The closest she’s been to her Broadway goal was an ensemble role in Jason Robert Brown Parade performed at Lincoln Center.

Her plans were to pursue an online degree while working as a Disney princess at Disney World in Orlando, an equity acting role that would have allowed her to acquire enough points for membership in Equity Actors Guide, which in turn would open audition opportunities.

But the E. coli infection meant she had to let the Disney job with salary and benefits go.

Never-ending nightmare
All 10 of the friends and family that dined on the chicken salad in October 2015, became sick with stomach cramping, diarrhea and gas pains. However Rodgerson’s reaction, according to the legal complaint, “was more traumatic: she was infected with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, that infection would change her life forever.”

At age 18 she became one of the 5 percent to 10 percent of E. coli O157:H7 victims who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS. It is a condition caused by the toxin from the bacteria — known as a Shiga-like toxin — entering through the inflamed bowel wall, putting organs like the kidney, pancreas and brain at risk. Acute renal failure often develops.

Rodgerson began experiencing diarrhea on Oct. 27, 2015. Soon she was vomiting up blood and passing bloody in her stool. She was taken to an urgent care facility on Oct. 31 with continued abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and aching joints.  She was referred to the emergency room at American Fork Hospital. Her culture was positive for E. coli O157:H7 and Pulse Field Gel Electrophoresis positively linked it to what was eventually identified as the Costco chicken salad outbreak strain.

Having developed HUS, Rodgerson was transferred on Nov. 6, 2015, to the Intermountain Medical Center, where she spent a month in shock traumatic intensive care. As she was being treated by a battery of specialists, she experienced renal failure and significant weight loss. Her large intestine was removed on Nov. 12, 2015.   Numerous additional surgeries followed.

Rodgerson was able to go home on Nov. 26, 2015, but was back at the hospital two days later with seizures, which sent her back to intensive care. Her doctors found she had a staph infection from the prior surgeries. She was discharged again on Dec. 1, 2015, and started outpatient dialysis two days later. The sessions were necessary three times a week. They lasted several hours and resulted in excruciating headaches, nausea, anxiety and sensitively to light and sound.

On March 2, 2016, an MRI determined 19-year-old Rodgerson’s kidneys had lost all function and she would need a transplant. It also found she was diabetic due to the E. coli infection. After testing other family members without success, her fiancé proved to be the right match for a kidney transplant. Delayed once, the transplant surgery was performed on Feb. 24, 2017, but Rodgerson continued to suffer with a C. difficile infection, a bowel obstruction, and another seizure.

Fragile future
The federal court complaint says Rodgerson will require a lifetime of medical care and predicts “future medical expenses will be in the tens of millions of dollars.” Rodgerson has “undergone numerous painful surgeries, has suffered severe headaches, seizures, abdominal plain, chronic diarrhea and nausea. She has suffered depression and discouragement resulting from dramatic change in life plan,” according to the complaint.   It says she’s been left diabetic with limited physical ability, and is “likely unable —practically, if not physically — from having children.”

Rodgerson won’t be able to work full time, her work skills have been “permanently diminished,” and she will experience a significant loss of income because of the E. coli infection caused by the contaminated chicken salad. But her lawyers say her principal losses are “her life and dreams of a couple of years ago…”

Rodgerson is represented by Lehi, UT, attorneys David M. Wahlquist and Adam D. Wahlquist and nationally known food safety attorneys William D. Marler and Bruce T. Clark. Costco has not yet responded to the complaint. The case is currently before  Dustin B. Pead, Magistrate Judge for the District of Utah.

Editor’s note: William Marler is publisher of Food Safety News and a founding partner of Marler Clark LLP law firm in Seattle. 

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