Bravo! Italian Cucina was sued Monday by a woman who suffered food poisoning after eating at the restaurant on May 7. The plaintiff is represented by Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally recognized for the successful representation of foodborne illness. At least 360 people became ill with symptoms of foodborne illness after eating at the restaurant.
William Marler, the Seattle attorney who made a name for himself representing Jack in the Box customers exposed to the E. coli bacteria in undercooked hamburger, said he plans to file as many as 148 cases against Sheetz Inc. and now-defunct tomato supplier Coronet Foods Inc. concerning allegedly salmonella-infested tomatoes, reported The West Virginia Record.
The salmonella outbreak occurred in July 2004. Pennsylvania health officials determined early on in their investigation that there was no evidence of insufficient cooking or hygiene on the part of Sheetz. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) quickly determined the source of contamination was from Roma tomatoes that Sheetz bought from Wheeling, W. Va.-based Coronet, which got them from a Florida tomato packing house. Coronet shut down and filed for bankruptcy in November 2004.
William Marler has been living in disease for 13 years.
“It’s an odd niche,” said Marler, who helped form the Seattle law firm Marler Clark after the Jack in the Box case in 1993. “I’ve been involved in a lot of salmonella outbreaks.
“I had one person in this Sheetz outbreak that suffered acute kidney failure. Luckily his kidney function bounced back.
“Salmonella is a nasty bug.”
Marler says he plans to file 148 cases against Sheetz and Coronet Foods concerning allegedly Salmonella-infested tomatoes sold in 2004. Most are in Pennsylvania, but he says there are handfuls in West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia in Maryland.
A group of four Sheetz customers have already filed a lawsuit in Tucker Circuit Court and are set for trial in December. They are seeking a total of $70,000.
Two weeks ago, two cases were filed in Ohio Circuit Court against Sheetz and Coronet, Sheetz’ tomato supplier.
And because the cases are so spread out and Marler is so far away, he has decided to file all his cases in Allegheny County in Pennsylvania.
“It’s the easiest place for everybody to get to, for lawyers and even the clients,” Marler said.
Marler is used to these types of procedure when it comes to food-born illness litigation because he’s had plenty of experience. He even started Outbreak Inc., a consulting firm for businesses that helps its clients avoid outbreaks like the one Sheetz is dealing with right now.
“By mid-May we hope to be finishing up a series of depositions,” Marler said. “We’re doing that with the hope that we can convince Sheetz and Coronet that they’re not going to be able to point a finger anywhere except themselves.
“We’ve got these poor people who get poisoned just going to a Sheetz. I represent a range of people who were sick for a week to hospitalized for 10-15 days.
“It’s not just a tummy-ache and some diarrhea.”
On May 03, By John O’Brien of the Charleston Bureau reported on the status of bankrupt Coronet Foods, Inc. and its attempts to stave off liability in several lawsuits claiming tomatoes supplied by Coronet to Sheetz contained salmonella bacteria.
From the article:
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that the tomatoes were contaminated when they were received by Coronet. It’s just a matter of trying to track down which one of the suppliers it was,” said Coronet’s lawyer Eric Anderson, of the law firm Meyer, Darrah, Buckler, Bebenek and Eck.
Anderson admits that representing a company that has gone bankrupt is difficult, but he is confident that the insurance companies that covered Coronet will not have to pay settlements on the coming wave of Sheetz litigation. Seattle attorney William Marler says 148 cases will soon be filed in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland.
Coronet received Roma tomatoes from two different suppliers, Consumer Produce and Procacci Brothers, and it will be up to the FDA to determine which supplier caused the salmonella outbreak, Anderson said.
Though, he admits, there are no smoking guns available – or rotten tomatoes left over- when it comes to food-born illnesses.
“One of the problems with food-born illness is the case is generally determined after an outbreak of illness related to food,” Anderson said. “All the food is gone then. We don’t have a direct line or smoking-gun evidence.”
What isn’t available, Anderson added, is proof positive.
“(Marler) has to prove that his clients fell ill from a product that came from Sheetz,” he said. “Right now, there isn’t any evidence with a situation where a client bought a sandwich containing tomatoes, got sick and had the rest of the sandwich sent to be tested for salmonella.
“That’s the burden he has to get over before he establishes liability.”
Anderson cited U.S. Air as a positive example of a company that filed for bankruptcy to protect itself against creditors, then was able to sustain operation in order to come up with a plan to pay them.
Coronet, he said, wasn’t so fortunate.
“There is insurance to cover some of these lawsuits,” he said. “It wasn’t Coronet’s fault. There was a chain of distribution, and Coronet got supposedly bad tomatoes.”
In an April 28th, 2006 MSNBC Dateline investigative report titled “Unseen danger in bagged salads,” Dateline documents several cases of E. coli infections caused by bagged salad, including an 11-year-old girl and a 54 year-old-old man.
In September and October, 2005, at least 23 Minnesotans became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after consuming Dole brand triple-washed, pre-packaged lettuce. Consumers in Wisconsin and Oregon who suffered E. coli infections in the same time period were also determined to be part of the Dole lettuce E. coli outbreak through genetic testing and an epidemiological investigation into their illnesses. Marler Clark represented eight individuals – seven Minnesotans and one Oregonian – with claims against Dole, and settled all cases in the spring of 2006.