4/14/2014 8:32:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - The North Carolina State Fair is not liable after more than 100 people became sick after an E. coli outbreak at its petting zoo in 2004, the state appeals court ruled.
E. coli is a life-threatening bacterium that is especially dangerous to children under the age of 5. The state's health department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the infection of 108 people to the petting zoo at the state fair in 2004.
Jeff Rolan and dozens of others then sued the fair's sponsor, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission ruled in favor of the state, noting that veterinarians prepared for the fair by checking the animals' health and removing those that were sick.
Also, a veterinarian posted additional signs warning patients to wash their hands and also added hand sanitizers to the petting zoo area.
In light of these facts, the commission determined that the state had taken precautions to protect the health of the patrons.
The plaintiffs argued on appeal that the state should have taken additional cautionary measures, such as providing better supervision, erecting a fence between the children and the animals, and providing information on the risk of E. coli infection.
A three-judge panel with the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the commission's ruling on April 1.
"While it was certainly possible for defendant to take the additional precautions suggested by plaintiffs, we agree with the Commission's conclusion that Defendant did not fail to act with due care in October of 2004 to minimize the risk of exposure to E. coli," Judge Linda Stephens wrote for the court. "Sources cited by the Commission note that it is impossible to eliminate the risk of enteric pathogens, like E. coli, in human-to-animal contact settings without eliminating petting zoos altogether."