All News / Outbreaks /

E. coli suits sent to Circuit Court

Cases don't belong in U.S. court, judge rules


of the Journal Sentinel staff

April 26, 2001

A judge ruled Wednesday that lawsuits stemming from last summer's E. coli outbreak cannot be heard in federal court.

The decision is potentially significant, lawyers said, because the company most able to pay damages to victims of the outbreak might have had a better chance of defending against plaintiffs' claims in federal court.

Lawsuits were filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on behalf of 11 families who had one or more members sickened last July by E. coli traced to Sizzler restaurants in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. The lawsuits named Sizzler and the local owners of the two restaurants as defendants, and some suits also named beef supplier Excel Corp.

Excel Corp. sought to have those cases heard in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee, arguing that it was a more proper setting because beef suppliers are governed by federal agricultural regulations.

But on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Clevert ruled that the cases don't belong in federal court, ordering instead that they be heard in state Circuit Court.

The ruling is important, said Seattle lawyer William Marler, who represents one of the families, because among the three defendants, Excel Corp. would be the most able to pay damages if it were found liable for the outbreak. Moreover, he said, Excel believed that under federal law, it would be more difficult for the company to be found liable because of the numerous federal regulations that control its industry.

The ruling means that all the cases will be heard by Circuit Judge David Hansher. A trial is scheduled for May 2003.

One child died and at least 62 people got sick in the E. coli outbreak.

Get Help

Affected by an outbreak or recall?

The team at Marler Clark is here to answer all your questions. Find out if you’re eligible for a lawsuit, what questions to ask your doctor, and more.

Get a free consultation
Related Resources
E. coli Food Poisoning

What is E. coli and how does it cause food poisoning? Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a highly studied, common species of bacteria that belongs to the family Enterobacteriaceae, so...

E. coli O157:H7

E. coli O157:H7 is a foodborne pathogen that causes food poisoning. E. coli O157:H7 is the most commonly identified and the most notorious Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) serotype in...

Non-O157 STEC

Non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli can also cause food poisoning. E. coli O157:H7 may be the most notorious serotype of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), but there are at least...

Sources of E. coli

Where do E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) come from? The primary reservoirs, or ultimate sources, of E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STEC in nature are...

Transmission of and Infection with E. coli

While many dairy cattle-associated foodborne disease outbreaks are linked to raw milk and other raw dairy products (e.g., cheeses, butter, ice cream), dairy cattle still represent a source of contamination...

Outbreak Database

Looking for a comprehensive list of outbreaks?

The team at Marler Clark is here to answer all your questions. Find out if you’re eligible for a lawsuit, what questions to ask your doctor, and more.

View Outbreak Database