Settlement reached in lawsuit against Big Olaf Creamery

Left- Big Olaf
Right - Mary Billman
Left- Big Olaf Right - Mary Billman(WWSB)
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 2:45 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2023 at 2:48 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A $4 million settlement has been reached in the wrongful death lawsuit involving the listeria outbreak connected with Sarasota-based Big Olaf Creamery.

Investigators say the bacteria found in Big Olaf ice cream caused 28 people from 11 states to fall ill between January and August.

The estate of Mary Billman filed the complaint for wrongful death in federal court, charging the woman died of listeria 11 days after eating Big Olaf ice cream in Sarasota.

Billman, 79, was visiting her daughter on Jan. 18, 2022 when she ate ice cream at the company’s store on Bahia Vista Street, the suit says.

A week later, she began having gastrointestinal issues and a low-grade fever. Her symptoms persisted, and on Jan 27, 2022 she awoke to a 103-degree fever and was admitted to a hospital in South Florida.

Over the next two days her organs began shutting down. She died Jan. 29, 2022.

She was the primary caretaker of her husband Richard Billman who suffers from dementia and other health problems.

“Unaware of the threat growing silently within her body, it was too late to save her life by the time Mary developed the signs and symptoms of the infection that was about to make her gravely ill. Less than two weeks after ingesting the ice cream, Mary Billman was dead,” states the wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court.

The $4 million damage award, which includes $1 million in punitive damages, was decided by Judge William F. Jung following an Evidentiary Hearing on Jan. 20, 2023. It was entered against Big Olaf Creamery LLC of Sarasota, FL.

The suit says over the next two days her organs began shutting down. She died Jan. 29.

Her husband and daughter Richelle were holding her hands when she died after being treated in the emergency room at Memorial Regional Hospital South in Hollywood, FL, for three days. No ICU beds were available.

“Those days and that day have haunted me since then and will haunt me forever. To now know that my family gave her the ice cream that killed her is almost too much to bear. I also know more about Listeria and am more aware of the pain and suffering she was going through while in the ER. We unnecessarily lost the bright light of love and positivity that was my mom. The pain and sadness are overwhelming,” Richelle is quoted as saying after her mother’s death.

The settlement also will go towards $89,689 in medical expenses from Memorial Regional Hospital South. He also incurred $1,220 in expenses for the cremation of Mary’s remains.

The punitive damages were sought because the Big Olaf Creamery “engaged in conduct that so reckless and wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, health and safety of individuals,” according to Richard Billman’s lawsuit.

Bilman was one of 28 people from 11 states who developed Listeria infections. Of them, 27 required hospitalization.

Mary was the only patient to die. Seven illnesses were among pregnant people or newborns. One illness resulted in pregnancy loss, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sick people’s samples were collected from Jan. 24, 2021, to Aug. 19, 2022. Patients ranged in age from less than 1 to 92 years. Half of them were female.

Samples from sick people showed a common strain of Listeria monocytogenes. That same strain was found on equipment at the Big Olaf production facility and in its ice cream. Initial statements from the company urged the public to wait as tests were run on equipment.

ABC7 reached out for comment from Big Olaf but there was no answer at the number provided.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since said its investigation has ended and that the outbreak was over, after workers tracked down the strains in the facility’s equipment.

“As of November 2, 2022, this outbreak is over,” a notice on the CDC website says.