The Oregonian recently profiled Bill Marler, a lawyer from Seattle who began representing victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness outbreaks in 1993 during the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak. Since 1993, Marler has represented thousands of victims of foodborne illnesses, including salmonella, hepatitis A, and shigella.
Marler has emerged as the country’s preeminent plaintiff’s lawyer in food-borne-illness cases. His firm has won nearly $300 million in settlements from restaurants and suppliers, and the financial drain — coupled with Marler’s constant calls for reform — has leveled pressure on industry and government to better police food.
"Put me out of business," Marler repeats as his rallying cry.
But business has never been more brisk. Government regulators play a limited role in addressing rising consumer claims of harm from what they have eaten. As a result, lawyers on both sides of such food fights have found a lucrative line of business working out differences between consumers and corporations over U.S. food safety.
Even before ConAgra Foods Inc. began recalling salmonella-tainted peanut butter last month, resulting in 4,500 potential victims contacting Marler’s office, he and his staff were inundated. Among their current caseload are reports of deaths and illnesses tied to E. coli in spinach, E. coli contamination at two taco chains and a hepatitis A outbreak at an Illinois restaurant.