Minnesota woman sues Cargill for $100 million in E. coli caseSt. Paul — Cargill is being sued for $100 million for selling E. coli-tainted hamburger in 2007, which left a 22-year-old dance instructor from Cold Spring, Minn., paralyzed.
By: Tom Webb, St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul — Cargill is being sued for $100 million for selling E. coli-tainted hamburger in 2007, which left a 22-year-old dance instructor from Cold Spring, Minn., paralyzed.
The woman, Stephanie Smith, already has racked up $2 million in medical bills, and probably will require constant care and medical attention for the rest of her life, said her Seattle-based attorney, Bill Marler. The lawsuit was filed Friday morning at U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
“You look at what Stephanie Smith went through, which is nine months of hospitalization, she’s still in rehab to gain more strength, she’s severely brain damaged, she can’t walk, she can’t have children, she’s going to lose her kidneys,” Marler said in an interview Friday morning. “What she lived for was to dance, and she’ll forever be wheelchair bound.”
Mark Klein, a spokesman for Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill, said in a statement today, “Cargill deeply regrets Ms. Smith’s continuing suffering due to her illness. Each time Ms. Smith’s family has asked for financial
assistance to cover out-of-pocket and rehabilitation costs, Cargill has advanced funds to help her and her family. We will continue to provide assistance to maximize her recovery and will continue to work with her counsel to reach a fair resolution.”
Smith’s case has drawn widespread media attention, and she has become the most vivid and horrifying face of the rising number of food-borne illness outbreaks. Her story has helped bring reforms to the food-safety system inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and nudged along a food-safety bill in Congress.
At a family barbecue in 2007, Smith ate a hamburger sold at Sam’s Club, and processed by Cargill, that was tainted with a deadly strain of E. coli. Her health quickly deteriorated, and she suffered so many seizures that doctors put her into a drug-induced coma to save her life, and transported her to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn. She was in a coma for three months.
Two months ago, the New York Times cited confidential trace-back information that showed the beef originated from four different Cargill suppliers — three plants scattered around the United States, and one in Uruguay.
Cargill officials indicated to the New York Times that they believe the tainted meat came from one of its suppliers. Marler was asked why he only named Cargill Meat Solutions in the lawsuit, not any of the four outside suppliers or Wal-Mart.
“The grinding records of Cargill make it impossible to say where Cargill sourced its meat from,” Marler said. “Cargill is the manufacturer, and they’re ultimately responsible for the meat that was sold to Sam’s Club.”
Marler later added, “Ultimately what I think Cargill’s problem is, they want to point the finger at one of their suppliers. ... But I have looked at all the documents, and have seen all the grinding records, and there’s just no adequate evidence in my opinion to link this E. coli outbreak with any supplier.”
Marler has been the nation’s premier attorney on food-borne illnesses since the Jack in the Box case of the early 1990s. He represented two other Minnesotans who became seriously ill in the 2007 E. coli outbreak. Those cases, also filed against Cargill, have been settled out of court and the settlements remain private.