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SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal jury will decide next week whether Dole Food Co. and two other corporations should pay $10 million to an Orem woman who became severely ill eating contaminated spinach.
Chelsey Macey, 26, developed post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome from a package of E. coli-infected Dole baby spinach four years ago. Her attorneys argue in a lawsuit Macey and her husband Tony filed in 2008 that her case is so acute that it rendered her permanently disabled.
This isn't a woman sitting around enjoying retirement. This is a woman struggling every day to cope with something we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy.
–Attorney Dick Burbidge, prosecution
"What's in Chelsey Macey's future? That's not a happy thing to look at," her attorney Dick Burbidge told jurors in closing arguments. "This isn't a woman sitting around enjoying retirement. This is a woman struggling every day to cope with something we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy."
Burbidge asked the 10-woman, two-man jury to award Macey $5 million for past medical costs, future medical costs and future lost wages, and at least that much more for pain and suffering.
The jury deliberated for about four hours Friday before being sent home. Deliberations are set to resume Tuesday.
Defendants Dole, Mission Organics and Natural Selection Foods have admitted responsibility for Macey's illness. But their lawyers argued during the five-day trial that her condition is not permanent and it can improve. They are willing to pay for past and future medical care but not to the tune of millions of dollars.
"You've got to reach a decision. Is Ms. Macey truly at the bottom of the pit?" Al Maxwell, who represents Natural Selection, told the jury. "We'd don't believe that's true."
Other than testifying on Wednesday, Macey spent little time in the courtroom during the trial.
Burbidge and witnesses painted Macey as a once healthy, talented, ambitious young woman. She worked full time at Maceys grocery store, attended school to become a pharmacist at the same time being a wife and mother of young daughters.
A doctor isn't directing Ms. Macey's care, Mr. Burbidge (her attorney) is.
–Attorney Al Maxwell, defense
But a bite of tainted pre-washed, ready-to-eat spinach robbed her of the ability to reach her personal and family goals, he said. Macey recovered from the infection, but doctors later diagnosed her with post-infectious IBS.
Medical and mental health experts whom her lawyers put on the witness stand testified her condition is permanent and getting worse.
Gripping abdominal pain and fatigue prevents her from working, going to school, attending church and managing her household, Burbidge said. She shies away from shopping and eating out for fear of losing control of her bowels.
"Every morning she gets up she's in pain," he said. "It doesn't go away."
Though Maxwell didn't question Macey's suffering, he said she hasn't always followed doctors' orders in an effort to get better. Macey has declined to see a psychiatrist whom he said should be the "captain of the ship" guiding her care. Anxiety and depression diagnosed in her teenage years contribute to her sickness as do life stresses such as the miscarriage she had two years ago, he said.
Maxwell said it wasn't until her lawyers hired a gastroenterologist and a psychologist to treat her in 2009 that the notion of permanent disability arose.
"A doctor isn't directing Ms. Macey's care, Mr. Burbidge is," he said.
Maxwell also contended that Burbidge purposefully omitted much of Macey's medical history because it would get in the way of the millions of dollars he was seeking. In his rebuttal, Burbidge noted that no one testified that Macey would get better.
In his rebuttal, Burbidge noted that no one testified that Macey would get better.
"It is a lot of money," he said. "It is a marker of what they took away."
Next week, lawyers will argue about possibly millions of dollars in punitive damages in the second phase of the trial.