E. coli victims have contacted lawyer

Personal-injury firm specializes in pursuing

REDWOOD CITY -- The families of several local E. coli sufferers have contacted a Seattle-based lawyer who has collected tens of millions of dollars in settlements in food-poisoning cases.

William Marler, a personal-injury attorney who has represented hundreds of E. coli, salmonella and botulism victims, said Tuesday several County families have called his office to inquire about filing lawsuits.

He gave no further details.

Marler's firm, Marler Clark, has reaped more than $75 million in settlements from restaurants and food distributors linked to E. coli, salmonella and other food-borne ailments. Marler won $15.6 million from Jack-in-the-Box restaurants, and $12.5 million from Odwalla.

He is also representing more than 30 E. coli sufferers who reportedly ate tainted lettuce at a small chain restaurant in Southern California earlier this month -- an occurrence that County officials say is not connected to the local cases.

As the outbreak of E. coli in The Sequoias-Portola Valley retirement community went into its 19th day Tuesday, one of two sufferers who had remained hospitalized at Stanford Medical Center was released.

Health officials were still tracking the source of the outbreak, which sickened dozens of residents and staff members at the retirement center since it was reported Oct. 9.

County Health Officer Scott Morrow said Monday that "food and food handlers" were being closely scrutinized, and said a report on the cause of the outbreak should be completed within a week.

And the family of Alice McWalter -- the 85-year-old resident who died from kidney failure related to E. coli on Sunday -- began preparing for a memorial service at her beloved Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley.

"We loved her dearly. She was delightful -- an elegant lady," said Mark Goodman-Morris, pastor of the church where McWalter sang alto in the choir.

McWalter, who was a paid choir singer all over the country, moved to The Sequoias from Columbus, Ohio, about three years ago, said her son Keith McWalter, a Portola Valley attorney.

Goodman-Morris said the church is planning a memorial service that will coincide with choir practice -- the way she would have wanted it.

"Music was her first love," the pastor said.

The County health department is keeping an eye on 46 people who have reported nausea, stomach pain and other symptoms of the intestinal infection. Thirteen residents of the 315-bed retirement center have been confirmed for E. coli, which is most often transmitted through undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables.

Staff writer Tim Hay covers County government. He can be reached at 306-2428 or by e-mail at thay@angnewspapers.com.