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Couple to Sue Kellogg Company in Salmonella Outbreak

Sarah Crichton, Newsday

February 4, 2009

A Vermont couple suing Peanut Corporation of America over the nationwide salmonella outbreak will also sue Kellogg Co., their attorney said yesterday.

That came as PCA's sole insurer, Hartford Casualty Insurance Co., indicated in court filings it would seek to limit its liability against a likely deluge of lawsuits. More than 550 individuals have been sickened and eight deaths have been linked to contamination at the firm's Blakely, Ga., plant.

Still more companies yesterday added products to a recall list that now exceeds 1,100 items - making this outbreak the cause of one of the biggest recalls in U.S. history.

Gabrielle and Daryl Meunier, parents of Christopher Meunier, 7, of South Burlington, Vt., last week filed a lawsuit against PCA after the child became ill with a fever, vomiting and diarrhea on Nov. 25. During a five-day hospital stay, tests confirmed the 7-year-old had been infected with Salmonella Typhimurium, the strain later sourced to the Georgia plant. The boy is still recovering.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia alleges he became ill after eating Kellogg's Austin peanut butter crackers.

Attorney Bill Marler said Kellogg was added as a defendant after it had become clear PCA's assets and limited insurance coverage of between $28 million to $31 million would be insufficient once all legal action had been launched.

"Kellogg also shares liability with PCA because Kellogg is a manufacturer of crackers that have sickened people in this outbreak," said Marler, a Seattle attorney with 15 years of experience in food-borne illness cases.

King Nut, a firm that sold peanut butter supplied to it by PCA and whose brand has been linked to several deaths in the outbreak, was also likely to be added as a defendant, he added.

Hartford, PCA's insurer, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Tuesday, seeking a judgment on whether its policies apply to this outbreak.

PCA yesterday issued a written statement saying federal and state regulators regularly visited the plant. "We want the public to know that there were regular visits and inspections of the Blakely facility by federal and state regulators in 2008," the firm said.

"Independent audit and food safety firms also conducted customary unannounced inspections of the Blakely facility in 2008," the statement said, noting the plant got an overall superior rating on one visit and, in another, was found to "meet or exceed" audit expectations.

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