Jury Orders Dairy to Pay $40,000 in Man’s Death
A Pomona Superior Court jury Friday awarded $40,000 to the family of a man whose death allegedly was caused by bacteria in Alta-Dena Certified Dairy’s raw milk.
The award marks the first time that the City of Industry-based dairy has been ordered to pay damages as a result of an illness traced to its unpasteurized milk.
The victim, Paul B. Telford of El Monte, drank the dairy’s certified raw milk for several weeks before his death in July, 1982. At the time, Telford, 66, was undergoing radiation therapy for lung cancer and was restricted to a liquid diet.
Alta-Dena said Telford’s death was cancer-related, but the family alleged that his death was due to an infection caused by Salmonella dublin and Listeria monocytogenes bacteria , which were found in his blood. Much of the case hinged on whether the bacteria were transmitted via the Alta-Dena product.
After a 2 1/2-week trial, the jury found the company negligent in its raw milk production.
Harold Stueve, co-founder of the dairy, said Alta-Dena will appeal.
“All I can say is that we are 100% innocent,” he said. “We can’t let this stand. No way. We are determined to appeal. . . . I just can’t believe a jury did what they did. He (Telford) did not get Salmonella dublin from our milk. No way.”
Telford’s son said the family was elated by the jury’s verdict.
“We have been hoping to prove for five years that Alta-Dena sold a product that at times could contain a deadly bacteria for certain people,” Paul A. Telford said. “To see a jury say that, yes, there is evidence that these deadly organisms can be passed through cows to milk is really important, because Alta-Dena has always claimed it is not possible.”
Alta-Dena is the nation’s leading producer of raw milk products, selling 10,000 gallons a day, most of it in Southern California. The dairy has had to recall its unpasteurized products dozens of times since 1974 after state health officials said samples contained salmonella , which can cause nausea, fever and diarrhea. The bacteria can be fatal to people with compromised immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and those suffering from AIDS.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently formulating a ban on interstate shipments of raw milk under a federal court order in a case brought by a Washington consumer group, which argued that raw milk products can be harmful.
The Telford family’s attorney, Robert Hodges of Hermosa Beach, said the size of the award was limited because Telford’s physician estimated that the cancer patient would have lived only for 12 to 18 months if he had not consumed the raw milk.
“This is the first case that I am aware of that has gone to trial and a jury has rendered a verdict against Alta-Dena based on the fact that a pathogen, such as S. Dublin or listeria, in their milk caused harm to anybody,” Hodges said. “They have taken the position all these years that their milk is pure and wholesome and has never caused anyone any illness or injury.”
Alta-Dena is also facing in Alameda Superior Court a suit filed by Consumers Union, the American Public Health Assn. and the Gray Panthers, a senior citizen activist group, which seeks a halt to a company advertising claim that its raw milk products are “safe, healthy, wholesome and pure.” The case is scheduled for trial later this year.