Case involving infection from chicken droppings moved to federal court

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Dec. 9, 2009, 1:14pm

LUFKIN – An East Texas man who claims he developed a rare disease after chicken droppings from Pilgrim's Pride were used as fertilizer on his property has had the case moved to federal court.

Charles Pool suffers from histoplasmosis, a disease caused by the inhalation of a fungal spore which can be found growing in bird or bat droppings. Pool states the litter was negligently disposed of on his property by Pilgrim's Pride.

Pool, and his wife, Brenda, filed the original lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride Corp. and Rex E. Rains on July 29, 2004, in the San Augustine County District Court.

On Dec. 7, defendant Pilgrim's Pride had the case moved to the Lufkin Division of the Eastern District of Texas because it is "related to" a bankruptcy case Pilgrim's Pride has pending in federal court.

The original lawsuit accuses the defendants of improper disposal of chicken litter.

The defendants deny the allegations and argue that others are responsible for Pool's injuries – including Pool himself, J.D. Litter Services, David McEachern, B & K Trucking and Equipment and Larry Watson.

According to a motion for summary judgment, a man named James Higgins had an agreement with Pool to mow Pool's pasture land in exchange for the hay he collected.

In 2003, Higgins asked Pool if he could fertilize the pasture, and Pool gave his approval, but did not ask who Higgins planned to hire or what he intended to use as fertilizer.

Higgins spent $2,000 to have B & K Trucking deliver 100 tons of poultry litter to the pasture to be used as fertilizer.

B & K Trucking had purchased the litter from J. D. Litter Services, which in turn had collected the droppings from chicken farmer Rains, an independent contractor for Pilgrim's Pride.

Although the plaintiff states he did not know anything other than that the pasture was to be fertilized, he opened his gates and allowed B & K Trucking to dump the four loads onto his property. According to the complaint, it was two to three weeks before the fertilizer was spread out onto the pasture.

Pilgrim's Pride maintains it does not dictate what the independent contractors, such as Rex Rains, do with the poultry litter nor was it a party to any of the litter transfer.

According to the CDC, if symptoms of histoplasmosis, such as respiratory problems, occur it is typically three to 17 days after exposure, although most infected persons do not have symptoms. Antifungal medications are used to treat the disease. The disease can be fatal if left untreated.

According to court records, Pool was diagnosed with disseminated histoplasmosis, which targets other organs in addition to the lungs.

Pool and his wife are seeking damages for physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, physical disfigurement, loss of work capacity, medical expenses and loss of consortium.

They allege the defendants knew their conduct created an extreme degree of risk and are also seeking punitive damages.

The plaintiffs are represented by Lufkin attorney Claude E. Welch, Center attorney Don Wheeler and Tyler attorney Merrilie W. Maull.

U.S. District Judge Ron Clark is assigned to the litigation.

Case No 9:09cv00203

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