I’ve been waiting a long time to make this post – more than two years. Today we settled a lawsuit against Nebraska Beef Inc. on behalf of two Longville, Minnesota families, those of Ellie Wheeler and Carolyn Hawkinson. We have been litigating for a long, long, time, and today a settlement was reached (for an undisclosed sum).

The story is a grim one. The members of the Salem Lutheran Church purchased beef for a church dinner – beef sourced, as we alleged, from Nebraska Beef Inc., and contaminated with E. coli. More than a dozen fell ill, including Ellie Wheeler, from the resulting E. coli infections, and Carolyn Hawkinson lost her life. When the tainted meat was traced to Nebraska Beef and they were sued, Nebraska Beef responded by suing the Church for—in effect—not cooking the deadly toxin out of the meat.

Today the families can finally begin to put their lives back together – lives ripped apart by the loss and injury of loved ones and by the massive medical bills that come with serious illness. Unbelievably, there have been other outbreaks traced to Nebraska Beef since the Longville outbreak; more have experienced the loss of health and financial security.

All the victims and families would rather time could be rolled back and the lives – and livelihood – of their family members could be restored. Nothing would make me happier than a safe food supply where no-one is sickened by what they eat. In the mean time, compensation is the best we can give those families, while we work to prevent it happening again.

News Coverage:

Minn. E. coli lawsuit against church settled

Attorney Bill Marler, who represented the Hawkinson and Wheeler families, said Monday the terms of the settlement are confidential.

The settlement resolves the claims against Nebraska Beef Ltd., Interstate Meat Services Inc. and Tabaka’s Super Valu. All those companies were involved in producing, distributing and selling the beef involved.

Attorney Gary Gordon, who represented Omaha-based Nebraska Beef, confirmed the case had been settled but wouldn’t comment on the details.

Nebraska Beef’s counter lawsuit against the church was an oddity. Marler said he’s never heard of a food manufacturer suing a private entity like a church, although he has seen cases where the manufacturer sued a restaurant.

Filing the claim against the church was a boneheaded legal strategy, Marler said when it was filed in October 2007.