More than a year after listeria was found in Blue Bell ice cream, former Houston resident David Shockley has settled his lawsuit against the company that he contends gave him listeria, according to court documents.
The case was due to finish the discovery phase, in which both sides exchange evidence, on September 2, according to court records. On Friday Ryan Osterholm, one of the lawyers representing Shockley, confirmed the case has been settled.
"The matter was resolved by mutual agreement of the parties before trial. Mr. Shockley and our law firm do not have any further comment beyond that," Osterholm stated via email. Blue Bell spokesman Joe Robertson told us Blue Bell does not comment on legal matters.
But despite our coverage of the Blue Bell scandal, it has been almost too easy for many to overlook the victims of the company's listeria outbreak, as we've previously noted.
It all started in February 2015 when South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials randomly tested Blue Bell products and found listeria monocytogenes, as we wrote in our cover story last year. The bacteria can cause food poisoning or meningitis.
Over the following months, as it gradually came out that Blue Bell had been churning out listeria-tainted frozen treats for years, according to Food and Drug Administration records, the company struggled to deal with the mess. Blue Bell yanked products off the shelf, endured a very public shutdown, furloughed employees, got an emergency cash injection to survive and then turned around and staged a triumphant return.
People in Brenham and across Texas reacted to the whole thing as if they were rooting for Seabiscuit or Rocky — as if Blue Bell were some scrappy upstart that, through no fault of its own, had run into some bad luck, not a multimillion-dollar privately owned company that tested positive for listeria on various surfaces in its factories but never bothered to test the ice cream itself for the pathogen, according to FDA reports.
For Blue Bell fans, the ten people known to have contracted the disease from Blue Bell products — three of whom died — according to the Centers for Disease Control, seem to be mere nameless, faceless details that screw up the company's underdog narrative. (The CDC doesn't release the names of those who test positive for diseases like this or even inform the victims or their families what the investigators find out from the tests.)
Except for Shockley.
In October 2013, it started with a headache. Skull pounding, Shockley, then 31, felt like throwing up and couldn’t stand the light, according to court documents. When he didn't show up for work, his coworkers found him at his apartment. He was rushed to the hospital with a temperature between 106 and 107 degrees, and admitted to the intensive care unit for acute respiratory failure, septic shock and seizures, court papers state. Shockley was on a ventilator for five days and unconscious for six. When he woke up he couldn’t walk, talk, swallow or move most of his body, according to court records. Doctors conducted a spinal tap. After his cerebrospinal fluid tested positive for listeria, Shockley was diagnosed with listeria meningitis with encephalitis.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
After he was discharged from the hospital, Shockley needed full-time care, so he moved back to his childhood home in Snow Hill, Maryland.
In May 2015, Shockley's lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against Blue Bell, alleging the ice cream made Shockley sick. Most people Shockley's age are less vulnerable to the disease — it mainly affects people who have weakened immune systems, like the pregnant or the elderly — but Shockley has ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disorder that required him to take medication that weakened his immune system and left him vulnerable to listeria, Brendan Flaherty, a lawyer with PritzkerOlsen, PA, previously told the Houston Press.
Shockley was never confirmed to have gotten listeria from Blue Bell because his listeria-positive bacteria samples weren't sent off to state or national labs for testing, despite a law that requires this to be done. But his lawyers have maintained that Shockley got the disease from eating Blue Bell products while working at an elderly care center stocked with Blue Bell ice cream. He frequently ate the small cups of ice cream while working there.
So now that Shockley's case is settled, those who wish to do so can enjoy Blue Bell's newest flavor, "Camo ‘n Cream," without another thought about that whole listeria business.