Class-action members did not show illnesses were caused by same meals

August 11, 2015

Although several Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. members who visited Indianapolis in 2013 all reported symptoms much like those caused by food poisoning, the Indiana Court of Appeals denied class certification, ruling the individuals did not specifically link their illnesses to the chicken served at lunch and dinner.

Ester Bowman filed a class-action complaint alleging that she and 61 others suffered personal injury and sustained economic loss as a result of consuming tainted food at the downtown Marriott. Bowman and the others were among the 1,900 sorority members who were attending the 79th Annual AKA Central Regional Conference held at the Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

Several hours after eating the chicken dish prepared for a special luncheon and attending the evening gala where chicken was also served, Bowman became violently ill and eventually had to be hospitalized.

Other conference attendees reported becoming ill as well. However, the symptoms were wide ranging and there was no consistent place of dining as not everyone ate at both the lunch and evening event.

The Marion Superior Court granted Bowman class certification, finding she had satisfied the requirements of Indiana Trial Rule 23(B)(3).

On appeal, Marriott disputes that Bowman has met the requirements of Indiana Trial Rule 23(B)(3). The hotel contended that even if a jury found that food served at the Marriott was contaminated or defective, each claimant would still need to prove that his or her injuries were proximately caused by consumption of that food.

The trial court had concluded that because Bowman and the class members’ claims all derive from a “common nucleus,” the predominance requirement was satisfied.

However, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Marriott and overturned the class certification in LHO Indianapolis One Lessee, LLC, v. Ester Bowman, Individually and on Behalf of Others Similarly Situated Individuals, 49A02-1411-CT-811.  

The Court of Appeals held once Marriott’s general liability is established, each individual member of the class has to show she ingested the tainted food and became ill because of it.

 “We cannot emphasize this point strongly enough because generalized proof will not suffice to prove individual damages,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the court. “The main problem this appellate court has on review stems from a failure to differentiate between the general and the particular. Although many common issues of fact and law will be capable of resolution on a group basis, customized and particularized damages must be established at an individual level.”

Remanding the case, the Court of Appeals recommended either redefining the class under Indiana Trial Rule 3(C)(4)(a) or continuing the certification under T.R. 23(B)(3) in regard only to Marriott’s general liability. The proximate cause of the members’ illnesses will have to then be determined by a series of individual hearings.


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