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Family of vet who died after suffering 100+ fire ant bites at VA facility sues for $20M

Department of Veterans Affairs (Ed Schipul/Flickr)
February 08, 2021

The family of Air Force Joel Marrable, who died in 2019 after being bitten more than 100 times by fire ants at an Atlanta, Ga. Veterans Affairs facility, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. last week. The lawsuit seeks $20 million in compensation from the U.S. and the Orkin pest control company.

The complaint, filed on behalf of Marrable’s daughter, Laquna Ross, states fire ant infestations had been identified at the V.A. Medical Center’s Eagles’ Nest Community Living Center in Atlanta throughout June, July, and August 2019. The complaint states Marrable, 73, who had served in the Air Force from 1962 to 1968, was living in the facility and was largely immobile due to advanced lung cancer. Marrable suffered fire ant attacks in his bed on Sept. 2, 2019, and again on Sept. 5, 2019

Marrable sustained more than 100 fire ant bites in the two separate attacks, which came just days before he passed away on Sept. 7, 2019. The lawsuit alleges the fire ant attacks were a key factor in Marrable’s death.

Brewster S. Rawls, an attorney representing Ross and Marrable’s two other heirs, told the New York Times, the fire ants bites contain “poison” and “the shock of the bites and the toxins, cumulatively, were just enough to push the poor man over the edge.”

Prior to the fire ant attack, Marrable’s healthcare providers recommended he transition to live out his remaining months in comfort, surrounded by his family and friends.

VA officials ordered an autopsy for Marrables following his death. The VA autopsy assessed the numerous fire ant bites were not a contributing factor in Marrable’s death, a point the lawsuit disputes with outside medical assessments.

The lawsuit also alleges the VA facility failed to maintain sanitary conditions and remove food that could attract fire ants at regular intervals, to prevent potential infestations like the ones found throughout the facility, including in Marrable’s room. The lawsuit further alleges the facility did not appropriately document the fire ant infestations and attacks.

The lawsuit also alleges the Orkin pest control company did not take appropriate measures to investigate the origins of the fire ant infestations, document the pest control measures used to stop the infestations, warn or advise residents about the dangers posed by the ant infestations and advise facility staff about ways to prevent and eradicate ant infestations. The lawsuit also names Rollins, Inc., Orkin’s parent company, as a defendant in the case.

The lawsuit calls for $7.5 million in compensatory damages from the U.S., and $7.5 million in compensatory damages from Orkin, to be paid to Ross as the administrator of Marrable’s estate. The lawsuit further calls for $2.5 million in compensatory damages to Marrable’s children from the U.S. and another $2.5 million in compensatory damages to the children from Orkin.

Responding to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Atlanta VA Health Care System spokesman Gregory Kendall told the New York Times that the VA continues to mourn Marrable’s death and sends condolences to his family and friends, “However, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Orkin, responding to the lawsuit, said it is reviewing the case, but said its records indicate it was only hired for limited exterior pest control services for part of the VA facility in 2019 and not for interior services.