February 2004

As Joshua L. Kwan reported in his San Jose Mercury News story Woman’s son sues over E. coli death, the son of an 85-year-old woman who died last year during an E. coli outbreak at a Portola Valley nursing home has sued the food service company that supplied contaminated spinach to the home.

”The wrong is that someone got sick,” said Bill Marler, an attorney for McWalter’s family. ”And it came from food that these people served,” he said about Sodexho. ”In a sense, it’s case closed.”

Keith McWalter said his mother complained of abdominal pain when he visited her Oct. 12. She was hospitalized Oct. 10, but residents weren’t warned of a possible E. coli outbreak until Oct. 13. Matsumoto said the home did not receive test results indicating an E. coli problem until Oct. 13.

As Tim Hay of the San Mateo County Times reported in his story Firm sued over E. coli outbreak, my firm has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the son of 85-year-old Alice McWalter, one of at least 16 Sequoias Portola Valley residents and workers sickened with E. coli from eating spinach purchased and served by Sodexho. Alice McWalter was hospitalized for stomach pains on Oct. 14, and suffered through 12 days of fever, nausea and seizures before she died of kidney failure.

“That [they] died after eating contaminated spinach is particularly disturbing,” attorney Bill Marler said in a prepared statement. “The whole state of California was, or should have been, paying special attention to food safety — especially fresh produce safety — at the time of this outbreak, since an outbreak in the San Diego area had been traced to E. coli-contaminated lettuce just weeks before.”

The Associated Press reported this morning that Chi Chi’s bankruptcy judge approved the mediation agreement which will allow claimants 45 days to submit lawsuits to nonbinding mediation, beginning in about two weeks.

In the past, notices of court orders like the one signed Thursday have been run in newspapers and on radio broadcasts advising people who say they were affected to send in claims, Marler said.

The state has records of the approximately 9,000 people who were inoculated following the outbreak.

“The argument against this system is there is a short timeframe for filing claims,” Marler said. “But you don’t have to send in all of your information. You just need to make sure that Chi-Chi’s, the suppliers and insurers know you exist.”

Cases may be divided into those who were sickened and those who just went in for shots.

The agreement to approve a mediation system to handle major legal claims against Chi Chi’s was going to be presented on Tuesday, but was delayed because one of the attorneys couldn’t sign off on it until Wednesday.

The agreement will create a 45-day window during which those who got sick could submit their pending lawsuits to nonbinding mediation. Those whose cases don’t settle would then be free to sue Chi-Chi’s for damages.

As J.D. Prose’s story Chi-Chi’s agreement awaited reports:

“What we’re trying to do is figure out a way where everyone gets fairly compensated,” said attorney William Marler.

Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer whose firm represents about 70 hepatitis A plaintiffs, described the proposed mediation as “a process where everybody gets an opportunity to resolve their claim in a … straight-forward manner.”

As Joe Mandak of the Associated Press reported today, Chi Chi’s hepatitis claims may go to mediation. As the AP reported, I have been working for two months to come up with a solution for people who want to get their claims settled. My firm represents 67 people who intend to sue Chi-Chi’s.

The bankruptcy court has only allowed one lawsuit, filed by Richard Miller who needs a liver transplant to save his life. He already has more than $500,000 in medical bills.

Marler said the agreement was reached, in part, because if the total claims against Chi-Chi’s exceed its insurance, the chain’s assets – which could be used to pay bankruptcy creditors – could be targeted in lawsuits.

“The creditors are concerned that the $51 million isn’t enough (to cover the hepatitis A lawsuits) and they want to have some ability to at least keep track of the settlements,” Marler said.

Under the mediation system, potential lawsuits settled for $35,000 or less will be paid from $500,000 in self-insurance the restaurant chain has or a $1 million Arch Specialty policy, without further review from the bankruptcy court. Chi-Chi’s will agree to seek the bankruptcy judge’s approval of settlements of more than $35,000.

Retired U.S. District Judge Donald E. Zeigler and his law partner, Tom Cooper, of Pittsburgh, will mediate the cases.

I left Pullman in the spring of 1982 with bachelor’s degrees in English, economics and political science with the goal of never looking back.

But, similar to many students who have made that vow, I did come back – more often than ever since 1997 when Gov. Gary Locke appointed me to the WSU Board of Regents.
Continue Reading Bill’s Keynote Address at Washington State University’s

Richard Roesler of the Spokesman Review reported today in his story Education plan faces uncertain fate, that the League of Education Voters has proposed a one-penny sales tax hike which would raise $1 billion a year for schools.

As the Spokesman Review reported today:

Washington State University Regent Bill Marler said he was surprised that recent polls showed as much support as they did. Voters are particularly supportive, he said, when told that the League proposal sets up a firewall around the money, so it can’t be drained off for other state budget needs.

“Anytime you ask people to raise their taxes it’s going to be hard,” he said. “But voters have got to look at this and realize the time has come.”

A baby-boom echo of more than 30,000 new college students is on its way in coming years, he said, and the state has to make room for them. Already, he said, WSU is turning away some students with 3.5 grade-point averages.

Some republicans are calling the proposition unrealistic, irresponsible and reckless. Critics are also pointing to the regressive nature of the sales tax, which tends to cost the poor a higher percentage of their income than the rich.

Marler agreed that the sales tax is regressive, but said the money would help pay for scholarships, other financial aid, and education to help lift kids from poverty.

Plus, he said, the simple one-penny proposal had the most voter support of several alternatives.

“We polled an income tax, we polled all kinds of taxes,” he said. “This seemed fairer to voters.”