Farm wholly liable for E coli damages

A petting farm in Surrey has been found wholly liable for damages after an E-coli outbreak in 2009 that left 93 people ill.

Godstone Farm, Godstone, could now face a bill of millions of pounds in compensation to the victims of E-coli 0157 – a potentially fatal strain of bacterium.

The Health Protection Agency linked the farm to the disease on 27 August 2009, but it remained open until 11 September 2009. At the time, farm owner Richard Oatway said he had followed HPA advice on cutting the risk of the disease, but did not receive instruction that he had to close.

By the time the outbreak was over, 93 people had become ill, 76 of them children under the age of 10.

At the High Court on 1 March, lawyers for Godstone Farm said its insurers admitted liability in 2011 and individual claims made by the victims were being processed.

The farm had tried to claim contributions from the HPA and Tandridge Council on the grounds that both authorities owed a duty of care to the public, according to the lawyer’s spokeswoman, Sarah Emerson.

But the judge’s ruling rejected that claim and found the farm solely liable.

Lawyer for 30 of the victims, Jill Greenfield, described the ruling as “an important decision for farms around the country”.

“The High Court made it very clear that the farm has ultimate responsibility – it can’t try to pass this on to other authorities,” Ms Greenfield told the BBC.

She added that putting a precise value on claims was difficult because “some were very serious in very young children, with renal problems that will be life-long”.

Ms Greenfield explained that each case had to include a provision that could allow it to reopen if any of the victims went on to suffer kidney failure in later life.

The HPA and Tandridge Council welcomed the judge’s decision and said they were continuing to work with the farm to ensure the safety of visitors.

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