Court of Appeals decision ensures that the doors of the courthouse will remain open

Courthouse doors remain open for Wisconsin citizens injured by adulterated meat

MILWAUKEE, WI —The State of Wisconsin District I Court of Appeals today handed down a decision holding meat supplier Excel can be found liable under state law for supplying adulterated meat to Milwaukee Sizzler restaurants, which led to the E. coli O157:H7 infection and death of three-year-old Brianna Kriefall and infections suffered by forty other patrons of a Milwaukee Sizzler restaurant in 2000. Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally known for its successful representation of victims of foodborne illness, and Fox, O’Neill & Shannon, a respected Milwaukee law firm, represent Ervin Lesak and several others, including three children who suffered from hemolytic uremic syndrome “HUS,” in lawsuits against Excel and Sizzler.

Excel won an earlier motion for summary judgment, in which a lower court upheld the company’s argument that it was not liable for injuries sustained by plaintiffs because it was shielded from liability by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). Today, the court of appeals said that Excel could be held accountable to those who are injured by its products, rather than safeguarded by the FMIA, a statute intended to protect the public, not meat companies. The Court held “that federal preemption does not close the doors of Wisconsin's courts to claims against Excel.”

“By ruling that the doors of the courts are not closed to Wisconsin citizens injured by unfit, adulterated meat, the court of appeals stood four-square with the issue of public safety,” said Denis Stearns, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School and attorney for Marler Clark. “The court ruled that the overriding congressional purpose is public safety, and rejected the meat industry's position that consumers should be the only people responsible for making sure one’s food is safe to eat.”

“This is a striking victory for consumers. It’s only right that companies should be held responsible for the safety of meat they produce, and we’re thrilled that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has made this decision,” said Karen Taylor Mitchell, Executive Director of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.).

The Court went on to say that it is not enough for the meat industry to focus solely on what happens in plants. Foodborne illness is a substantial and intolerable public health problem, and it is therefore important for processors to consider what happens to meat after it leaves their plants.

“In other words,” Stearns continued, “the Court rejected the meat industry's caveat emptor defense—their argument that it’s the consumer's fault if they get sick. A claim premised on damages resulting from the sale of adulterated meat is another reason manufacturers should comply with existing requirements under federal law and prevent consumers from receiving adulterated meat in the first place.”