cantaloupe_frontera.jpgDan Elliott 0f Denver AP and I spoke this morning for his story that went online a few moments ago – “Settlement talks under way in listeria lawsuits:”

A settlement is in the works in lawsuits against a Colorado farm identified as the source of a nationwide listeria outbreak last fall that killed at least 30 people, attorneys said Monday.

Lawyers for Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., and for 39 people who were sickened or who had a family member die said a deal could be worked out by this fall.

Bill Marler, the lawyer for 39 of the plaintiffs, said the settlement could also include a company that manufactures and imports food-processing equipment and a company that did a safety audit of the farm.

The plaintiffs could still pursue claims against others allegedly involved in the distribution and sale of the cantaloupe, Marler said.

“There’s frankly plenty of responsibility to go around,” he said. “The chain of distribution from the farm to the retailer bears responsibility for producing and selling that food that sickens and kills 146 people.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December that 30 people died, 146 people were sickened and one woman suffered a miscarriage. Marler believes 36 deaths can be attributed to the outbreak. The CDC didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking an updated figure.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has said dirty water on the floor and old, hard-to-clean equipment probably were to blame for the outbreak last fall.

It was the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years. The CDC said cases were reported in 28 states.

Jensen Farms filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, and the listeria lawsuits against the company cannot go forward until the bankruptcy judge clears the way, Marler said.

Marler said he hoped a broad settlement with all the defendants could be in place by this fall.

The settlement currently under negotiation would set up a victims’ fund of roughly $4 million, including all of Jensen Farms’ $2 million policy, Marler said. The remainder would come from the insurers of the equipment company and the safety auditor, Marler said.

Marler said the projected $4 million settlement fund isn’t enough to fairly compensate the victims. He said his clients have amassed a total of nearly $8 million in medical bills, and they deserve more for pain and suffering and for future medical bills.