As Marlene Hunt of the PioneerLocal reported, a settlement has been reached between 49 victims of the salmonella outbreak traced to the former Chili’s Bar and Grill in Vernon Hills and Brinker International, owner of the franchise.

My firm filed individual lawsuits and a class action lawsuit in federal court in Chicago during 2003 seeking punitive damages on behalf of all outbreak victims. The settlement was worked out before the trial was scheduled to start.

Health officials determined the source of the salmonella infection was not due to improperly cooked food, but to employees who likely failed to follow proper hand washing techniques and a management decision to keep the restaurant open for two days even though its water supply was interrupted.

The food poisoning epidemic affected more than 300 persons who dined at the Vernon Hills restaurant between June 23 and July 1 in 2003. The health department interviewed about 1,200 individuals including 305 people whose illnesses appeared related to the outbreak. Of those, 141 patrons and 28 employees tested positive for salmonella.

Marler Clark has settled the claims of 49 individuals who were infected with Salmonella after eating at the Vernon Hills Chili’s Grill & Bar in late June and early July of 2003.

“We were far along in the process of preparing these cases for trial when settlement discussions finally seemed to turn serious,” said Marler Clark partner Denis Stearns. “We believed strongly in our case, and the importance of the point we were trying to make about food safety and corporate responsibility. This was a case my partners and I really wanted to take to trial. But when finally faced with the chance to not only fully compensate our clients, but to do so in a way that showed the clients that, we really did send a message with this one, that was something we had to recommend accepting.”

The Lake County Health Department’s outbreak investigation revealed that the Vernon Hills Chili’s had been under operation despite having a broken dish-machine and a lack of hot water for at least one day, and a lack of any water at all during most of the lunch-rush one day when infected food workers were preparing and serving food to patrons. The Lake County Health Department reported that 305 Chili’s patrons reported having symptoms of Salmonella infection that could be traced to Chili’s.

“In a way it is too bad that the amount of the settlement is confidential,” added Bill Marler. “I think that more than most settlements we have achieved in the past, this one would really have made the restaurant industry sit up and take notice.”