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The Swine Flu and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

The first lawsuit stemming from the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus (commonly called the swine flu) has been filed. The wrongful death claim has been filed by Steven Trunnell, the husband of Judy Trunnell. Judy Trunnell was the first American to die from the virus and her husband is suing Smithfield Foods. That US company owns the pig farm in Mexico where the recent outbreak is thought to have originated.

Trunnell underwent a caesarean section a few days before her death and delivered a baby girl. A few days later, May 5, she was admitted to hospital and she never recovered from the flu symptoms which lead to coma and death.

One issue in the suit may be whether Trunnell had health problems before her death. Her husband claims that she enjoyed “excellent” health while health officials have reported that Trunnell suffered from “chronic” health problems, which played a role in her death. The CDC eventually amended its claims to assert that Trunnell had mild asthma and psoriasis. Trunnell’s husband claims his wife did not have asthma, but was prescribed an inhaler once for a cold. Trunnell’s husband initially contacted an attorney because he was concerned about the inaccuracies reported by health authorities to the media about his wife.

Steven Trunnell has filed a petition in Cameron County’s state district court. The petition requests permission to gather more information about Smithfield Foods to determine whether a wrongful death claim is legitimate. Steven Trunnell and his attorney allege that overcrowding and poor conditions at the Veracruz, Mexico pig farm owned by Smithfield Foods created a breeding ground for the virus. Smithfield Foods, a $12 billion company, has stated that their pig farm does not have a negative impact on the health of the surrounding communities. Some health officials have questioned whether the H1N1 virus originated at the Veracruz, Mexico pig farm.

Steven Trunnell’s case may be one of many, especially if his petition is granted and his attorneys are allowed to question Smithfield Foods employees and other relevant parties to gather information and evidence. So far, there have been three deaths in the US, but the HINI virus has wreaked havoc with tour operators, travel businesses and even small businesses who have had employees travel to Mexico.

In fact, many businesses are worried about the legal impact of the H1N1 virus. Many worry that if a sick employee infects others in the workplace, the employer will be held at least partially responsible. Many employers are concerned about creating a safe workplace and are supplying disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers. Other employers are wondering how to discourage sick employees from coming in to work and are wondering about sick time policies and the H1N1 virus. Since the virus originates in Mexico, some employers are also worried about discrimination lawsuits if they ask employees from Mexico who have recently visited their native country to stay home. It is also possible that the virus will create some headaches with workers compensation when some ill employees file claims.