published Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Aquarium sued over child’s illness

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Federal complaint
Federal complaint

The parents of a child who developed a bacterial infection after petting stingrays at the Tennessee Aquarium has filed a federal lawsuit seeking $2.4 million.

Aquarium officials issued a news release late Friday acknowledging the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, but denied responsibility for the boy’s condition.

“While we sympathize with this young man’s situation and wish the family well, we do not believe that we are responsible,” aquarium spokesman Thom Benson said in a release.

The infection, which cropped up after the child was at the aquarium in November, is known as “fish-handler’s disease.” Reached by telephone Friday, Benson said five water tests in November showed no trace of the bacteria and the exhibit was not closed

The complaint by Christopher and Catherine Callaghan, of Cobb County, Ga., claims that their child touched stingrays and sharks in the aquarium’s exhibit and within six days developed signs of the disease.

Over the next few weeks, the child was treated at two hospitals before spending 11 days at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, undergoing multiple surgeries and “excruciating pain throughout his right hand,” the complaint states.

Benson said staff took several steps after learning the child was sick, including testing the water in the stingrays’ tank. He said no staff members have tested positive for the bacteria and noted other sources of possible contamination.

“(Fish-handler’s bacteria) can be found in soils, mammals — including cats and dogs — and is frequently associated with infections from poultry and swine,” Benson said in the release.

On Friday, he would not comment on whether the aquarium had attempted to reach a settlement with the couple before the June 20 lawsuit filing.

The complaint asks the federal court to hold the aquarium responsible for the infection because it allows an open exhibit that “allowed patrons to touch aquatic animals” and the aquarium staff “knew that these animals carried the (bacteria) and failed to warn their invitees.”

Attorneys for the aquarium have until July 18 to file a response to the complaint.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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petuniadewitt said...

how dare the aquarium allow ANY patron to walk thru dangerous exhibits without donning a hazmat suit and receiving a full silkwood upon exiting? and for those who call the plaintiffs gold-digging trailer trash and their attorney an ambulance-chasing strip-mall lawyer, i say, welcome to america! if you see an opportunity (in this land of such), take it! think of the lesson you're teaching the kids!

June 25, 2011 at 7:34 a.m.
SeaMonkey said...

you know.....i'm sick of people like this. there should be a penalty for frivolous lawsuits like this. it's unfortunate that things happen like this, but to claim the aquarium knew about it and did nothing about is ludicrous. lawsuit happy jackasses like this should face a penalty for taking up court time and to pay back any fees that the party they're accusing something of have to pay.

politicians who are in bed with these type of lawyers are responsible for this kind of garbage being perputated. they refuse to do anything about it.

June 25, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Six days later the child developed a disease? That timing alone suggests there may have been an intervening cause, unrelated to the aquarium visit.

June 25, 2011 at 9:24 a.m.
NoMyth said...

ridiculous. this should be dismissed. besides, the aquarium has very clear warning signs directing all patrons to wash their hands after touching any fish. too bad for this poor kid that his parent can't read or properly care for their child.

June 25, 2011 at 12:44 p.m.
roadrunner201 said...

This just makes me sick. Anyone with common sense would make their kid wash his hands after touching the animals anyway. I hope that not only is this thrown out, but that the family ends up having to pay a boat load in legal fees.

June 25, 2011 at 1:43 p.m.
moonpie said...

Good luck with this one.... one case does not negligence make.

June 25, 2011 at 6 p.m.
eastridge8 said...

Aww Gee Whiz L4F...."that little freak"?...Come on, it's not his fault he has greedy parents...kids don't choose the family they're born into...if they could, I'd have chosen the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts or the Astors...GIMME SOME OF THAT OLD MONEY!

June 27, 2011 at 4:56 p.m.
Momus said...

They saw an opportunity and took it. This family should not be villified, they should be applauded for exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit. They represent capitalism, they are America!

June 27, 2011 at 10:53 p.m.
eastridge8 said...

L4F...a freak is someone who's different from other people? And if you get sick at an aquarium you're a freak?

That's just about the dumbest thing I ever heard...

I just thought it sounded as if you thought this was all the kid's fault he got sick. I don't the kid is a "freak". And I didn't think it was very nice of you to label him as such. He's only a KID!!...Two hospital stays and 11 days at Vandy are no picnic...

I DO agree with you about the greedy parents tho.

June 28, 2011 at 12:13 p.m.
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