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ConAgra settles with 6 more on E. coli

Three Coloradans, Ohio fatality included

ConAgra Foods agreed Tuesday to settle legal claims of six more victims - three of them in Colorado - who were sickened or died after eating E. coli-tainted beef last summer, according to a Seattle lawyer.

That brings to 21 the number of cases ConAgra has agreed to pay without going to court. The Omaha-based company owned the Greeley slaughterhouse that produced the infected meat.

Details of the settlements were not disclosed, although attorney William Marler, who represents many of the victims, at one time estimated the cost to ConAgra could run as high as $50 million.

At least six more victims' claims are pending from the 18.6 million-pound meat recall in July. It occurred after beef at the plant tested positive for the bacteria and became one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history.

The six claims settled Tuesday involved the most seriously affected by the meat, including a 68- year-old Ohio woman who died, the only death among 47 illnesses linked to the recall.

The Colorado cases settled Tuesday involve two girls, 2 and 17, and a 4-year-old boy. The other settlements involve a 2-year-old Nebraska boy and a 7-year-old boy from South Dakota.

The kids each suffered from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a sometimes-fatal kidney disorder caused by the E. coli 0157:H7 that infected the meat. The disorder causes long-term complications.

The only victim to die was Patricia Pfouts of Whitehall, Ohio, who worked as a day-care provider at a grocery store where some of the tainted meat was sold.

ConAgra's decision to settle without being sued is highly unusual, said Marler, an expert on food-illness cases.

"It's never happened to me in my career," Marler said. "Unlike most companies I've dealt with, ConAgra has stepped up for these kids and their families."

Marler said settlement money for the kids will be placed into trust accounts to pay for future medical expenses and education.

"Our thoughts have always been with those affected by the recall, and we wanted to do the right thing," ConAgra spokesman Chris Kercher said.

Vail businessman George Gillett, former owner of the Vail ski area and a Dallas investment firm, in September bought Greeley-based ConAgra Beef Co. for $1.4 billion. The firm operates as Swift & Co. and has spent millions to improve its food-safety record.

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