Family might seek $1B in Harlingen woman's swine flu death - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Family might seek $1B in Harlingen woman's swine flu death

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Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 12:00 am

An area around the small Mexican town of La Gloria, which is believed to be the origin of the swine flu, is described as being "ground zero" for the H1N1 flu, states a petition filed in state court.

It is this swine flu that Harlingen resident Steven Trunnell deems is responsible for the death of his late wife, Judy Dominguez Trunnell, 33, a special education teacher.

Steven Trunnell, a paramedic, filed a petition to conduct discovery against Smithfield Foods Inc., doing business as Granjas Carroll de Mexico, and operating a pig farm near La Gloria, to determine if the operators of the pig farm may be held accountable for his wife's death.

He is seeking a court order that would authorize depositions, or oral examinations, of company officials, employees and agents to investigate wrongful death claims against Smithfield Foods Inc.

Trunnell is being represented by Austin-based attorneys Marc G. Rosenthal and J. Lynn Watson. Although the case has been assigned to the 357th state District Court in Cameron County, the court had yet to receive it as of Tuesday afternoon. Therefore, no hearing date had been set.

The pig farm, located in La Gloria, Veracruz, Mexico, is partly owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc.

Officials with Smithfield Foods in Virginia declined comment Tuesday regarding the petition filed against the company. The petition was filed late Monday afternoon.

However, a United Press International report quotes Smithfield company official Gregg Schmidt, saying Smithfield "believes that it has had no negative impact on the local community or the environment through its operations."

Mexican health officials have found no connection between the swine flu virus and the pig farm. Nevertheless, residents there have long blamed the farming operation for a variety of illnesses, UPI reported.

Meanwhile, if there is enough evidence found to justify the wrongful death claims made against Smithfield Foods, Steven Trunnell could seek a wrongful death claim and survival damages of up to $1 billion, the petition states.

He could also try to bring a class action lawsuit against the company, which could call for Smithfield Foods to cease and "desist all misconduct related to the unsanitary and unsafe operations of its gargantuan pig farm operation in Mexico."

Judy Dominguez Trunnell died May 5 as a result of the H1N1 virus or swine flu. The Mercedes teacher was eight months pregnant when she developed flu-like symptoms. She gave birth by Caesarean section to a baby girl and died shortly thereafter.

She is the first American to die from H1N1 flu and the second confirmed death in the United States. The first recorded death in the U.S. was a Mexico toddler who died in late April while being treated at a Houston hospital. A third death is that of a man from the state of Washington believed to be in his 30s.

In Texas as of press time, there were 294 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu, with 293 of the infected being Texas residents, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported.

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