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Listeria Fightback: Couple File Suit Against Tainted Cantaloupe Suppliers

Couple is fighting back against the farm that supplied the tainted fruit.

ByABC News
September 16, 2011, 4:43 AM

Sept. 16, 2011— -- In the midst of a listeria outbreak that has led to the death of at least two people and sicked 22 people in seven states, two victims are already fighting back against the farm that supplied the suspect fruit.

Tammy and Charles Palmer are the first to file a lawsuit against Jensen Farms, claiming the cantaloupe that they consumed tested positive for listeria.

Charles Palmer, a retired Marine sergeant, was rushed to a Colorado Springs hospital two weeks ago, paralyzed and unable to speak.

"I went over and started patting his face and I'm like 'Chuck what's wrong?' And he couldn't talk or anything so that's when I called 9-11," Tammy said.

It turns out that Charles, 71, was suffering the acute symptoms of listeria poisoning: fever, muscle and headaches, nausea and diarrhea. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.

Listeria poisoning is potentially fatal -- the overt form of the disease has a mortality rate of 25 percent. Two in Colorado and New Mexico have already died since the current outbreak began over two weeks ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Palmers never could have imagined that it was the cantaloupe Charles ate nearly two weeks prior that caused his listeria poisoning.

"To see him suffering like that it's just horrible," Tammy said.

The tainted cantaloupe came from Jensen Farm's in Colorado, where more than 300,000 cases of cantaloupe have been voluntarily recalled in 17 states this week because of potential listeria contamination.

The CDC said the 22 people infected in this outbreak are in seven states: Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

"It really comes -- it's really personal to us. It's deeply troublesome for us," Jensen Farms owner Eric Jensen told ABC News.

Jensen Farms has destroyed the remaining crop, and stores have been pulling their cantaloupes from shelves.

But that's not enough for the Palmers. They are the first to file a lawsuit, claiming the Jensen Farms-supplied cantaloupe they bought at a local Wal-mart tested positive for Listeria.

"You don't know what to trust, what to buy," Tammy Palmer said. "I just can't believe it. I'm still in shock," she said of the condition of her husband, who remains in the hospital. "I want him home. I want him by my side."

The Jensen Farms cantaloupes were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10, and were distributed throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.