ConAgra settles 8 suits by E. coli beef victims


DENVER -- Eight lawsuits filed by people sickened by E. coli-contaminated beef from the former ConAgra Foods Inc. meatpacking plant in Greeley were settled earlier this month, but more serious cases involving children and the family of a woman who died are pending, said an attorney representing clients in several states.

On Monday, William D. Marler of the Seattle-based Marler Clark, said 18 of 31 cases his firm is handling, including nine from Colorado, have been settled since December.

Marler would not disclose the financial terms of the settlements, citing confidentiality agreements with ConAgra.

“My clients wanted to move on with their lives and I think ConAgra is trying to do the same,” he said.

Marler only would say that the settlements covered medical expenses, attorneys fees, lost wages, and any future medical expenses stemming from consumption of the contaminated beef.

Marler's firm met with ConAgra officials in December, when 10 cases were settled, and during the first week of March, when eight more agreements were reached. He expects to meet with ConAgra officials again sometime in April to negotiate further settlements.

According to a report in Monday's Omaha World-Herald, ConAgra has settled a total of 21 cases.

Officials for ConAgra, based in Omaha, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Vail businessman George Gillett, former owner of the Vail ski area, and a Dallas investment firm in September purchased Greeley-based ConAgra Beef Co. for $1.4 billion. The company now operates as Swift & Co.

Pending are lawsuits filed by the families of six children who were seriously sickened after eating contaminated beef and one by the family of Patricia Pfoutz, a suburban Columbus, Ohio, woman who died.

The children, between the ages of 2 and 16, developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious kidney ailment, after eating meat produced by the Greeley plant.

A batch of ground beef produced in May tested positively for E. coli, prompting the recall of almost 19 million pounds of ground beef that had been distributed nationally. It was one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history.

E. coli can cause symptoms that include bloody diarrhea, vomiting and painful bowel spasms. In more serious cases, patients are put on kidney dialysis machines and could suffer long-term health consequences.

He said ConAgra has paid all medical expenses -- ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 -- for the six children who were sickened. Marler said most companies refuse to pay for medical expenses.

“It's a good faith thing. ConAgra is saying, 'Look, we're sorry. We're going to try to do the right thing,'” he said.

Some of the six children who ate contaminated beef later had to be put on dialysis for up to two weeks.