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Cold Spring woman sues over E. coli burger

By David Unze

March 24, 2010

A Cold Spring woman who nearly died after getting E. coli from a tainted hamburger is asking for more than $56 million in her lawsuit against Cargill.

Stephanie Smith, 23, was left paralyzed from the waist down and with extensive, long-term injuries that one day will require a kidney transplant. A court filing this week in her federal lawsuit against Cargill for the first time in public documents itemizes her medical expenses to date and estimates her future medical expenses and future lost wages.

Cargill has admitted it is "strictly liable and thus responsible for Ms. Smith's injuries," according to a court filing this week in U.S. District Court. Cargill has paid about $390,000 for Smith's rehabilitation care and has bought her a handicapped-accessible van, according to Cargill's filing.

Smith's attorneys have filed documents showing Cargill's payments at about $360,000.

The court filing detailing her expenses indicates that her medical care has cost about $1.8 million so far. That filing estimates her future medical care at $29.5 million, and her lost future wages between $927,000 and $1.2 million. Smith's attorneys are seeking an additional $25 million in general damages from Cargill.

No trial date has been set for the case. Smith's attorneys agreed to waive any punitive damages claim in exchange for a faster trial on compensatory damages only.

In its filing, Cargill indicates it hopes a settlement can be reached without a trial. Cargill has told the court it is reserving its rights to take action against suppliers "who provided improper materials," according to the court filing.

Smith is a former dance instructor who became ill in September 2007 after eating a hamburger produced by Cargill. She was diagnosed with an E. coli infection that developed into hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that causes kidney failure.

She suffered several seizures and was in a medically induced coma for three months. She has spent more than two years in rehabilitation and remains in a wheelchair.

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