Foster Farms settles lawsuit

A 58-year-old Turlock man who said he became ill after breathing dust from dried chicken droppings at Foster Farms ranches will drop his lawsuit against the company after both sides agreed to a settlement late last month.

Bailey Hooven was set to take the Livingston-based poultry giant to trial May 5 but resolved the case after signing a confidentiality agreement, keeping the terms of the settlement under wraps.

Hooven's attorney, Chris Viadro of San Francisco, said he was barred from giving any details about the case other than to say his client and Foster Farms were both satisfied with the agreement.

Fresno attorney Poncho Baker, who represents Foster Farms, said neither side admitted fault by settling the case. "The parties resolved their differences," he said.

Hooven and his wife originally sought $2.8 million for medical expenses, past and future wage losses and other damages but reduced their request to $670,000, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court in 2005.

Foster Farms had previously offered no more than $25,000, the court filings said.

An assistant manager for a poultry equipment distributor in Turlock, Hooven said he worked exclusively at Foster Farms-owned ranches from Jan. 1 to Feb. 13, 2003, wearing only a paper mask to keep out the dust, according to court papers.

The chicken houses "were highly dusty from ... 20,000 defecating chickens," the lawsuit reads, and Foster Farms workers told Hooven "there was no risk of transmission of any disease from the birds to humans."

"He was told there was nothing for humans to worry about," according to the lawsuit.

Psittacosis diagnosed

Hooven went to the emergency room in an ambulance in late February, complaining of chest pain, coughing and shortness of breath.

Over the next six years, Hooven lost more than 50 pounds and suffered from bouts of pneumonia, asthma, daily migraine headaches, vomiting, chronic chest and abdominal pain and other symptoms, according to the documents.

Doctors diagnosed Hooven with psittacosis, also known as parrot's disease, an infection acquired by inhaling the dried secretions from infected birds, the lawsuit reads.

Since 1996, fewer than 50 confirmed cases were reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some were fatal. The CDC noted many more cases may occur that are not correctly diagnosed or reported.

A judge is set to dismiss the lawsuit Aug. 19.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.