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Carl's Jr. settles suit with hepatitis victims

Spokane _ Carl's Jr. agreed Tuesday to pay four Spokane-area families settlements ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 because members of those families contracted hepatitis A at a local franchise.

The Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark filed a class-action lawsuit in March against Carl's Jr.

Attorney Bill Marler said the terms of the settlement prevent him from divulging the names of those who contracted the virus.

Carl's Jr. officials also agreed to pay for hepatitis A immune globulin shots for some 1,400 people who ate at the restaurant, in addition to compensating them $200 each. Those people ate at the restaurant near the time it was discovered an employee there had the virus but did not contract the disease.

"I think our clients were pleased with the settlement," Marler said. "Carl's Jr. stepped up to the plate."

Carl's Jr. is run by Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc. Officials at the California-based company declined comment Tuesday.

Marler said those infected have fully recovered.

Early this year, a man handling vegetable garnishes at Carl's Jr. on Third Avenue exposed people to the virus.

People eating sandwiches with tomato, lettuce or onion in late January and early February were potentially exposed. Hepatitis A is easily spread through cool, moist foods that don't get cooked, such as fruits and vegetables.

Those who have been infected are often infected for several days before they realize what they have, said Paul Stepak, medical epidemiologist for the Spokane Regional Health District.

Marler said what is even more important than the financial settlement is the fact that Carl's Jr. now requires all its employees to receive hepatitis A shots.

Marler, who was appointed to Washington State University's Board of Regents in 1997, said he plans to take the $10,000 in legal fees he collected from the Carl's Jr. case and donate it to WSU's Food Science Program.

Marler Clark is well-known for cases involving contaminated food.

In a 1993 class-action suit, Marler represented 300 people who ate meat tainted with the E. coli bacteria at Jack in the Box restaurants.

Memo: In the case of Brianne Kiner of Seattle, Jack in the Box settled for $15.6 million after she fell into a coma for 48 days, suffering brain damage and losing her large intestine.

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