Jack in the Box Ends E. Coli Suits


The last personal injury case over the 1993 E. coli breakout at Jack in the Box has settled, with lawyers for a 13-year-old boy here announcing Oct. 29 that they had accepted $ 3 million.

More than 600 people got sick in January 1993 from eating undercooked Jack in the Box hamburgers contaminated with E. coli, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and, in severe cases, kidney failure and even death. Most of the victims were children living in Washington state; four of them died.

In addition to Foodmaker Inc., the corporate owner of the West Coast-based Jack in the Box fast-food chain, lawyers for the 13-year-old sued the Vons Cos., which prepared hamburger patties for the chain, numerous beef suppliers and the local franchise operator. This latest settlement came from a $ 100 million fund established by 10 of the defendants' insurers, said one of those lawyers, William Marler, of Kargianis Watkins Marler in Seattle.

The boy, whose name is being withheld, spent 10 days in a hospital, where he required dialysis and blood transfusions. He has recovered but will require medical monitoring, said Mr. Marler.

Mr. Marler also represented the family of Brianne Kiner, a 9-year-old girl who fell into a 42-day coma after eating a contaminated hamburger. The girl, who continues to be treated for her injuries, received $ 15.6 million to settle in 1995.

A class action by plaintiffs with relatively minor injuries was settled for $ 12 million.

Jack in the Box was initially criticized for its handling of the crisis, losing credibility and stock market value immediately after the outbreak. But observers say the chain quickly recovered by instituting industry standard-setting food handling and cooking techniques.

And Mr. Marler, who said he recovered about $ 40 million in settlements for clients in the Jack in the Box cases, praised the companies and their lawyers for the way they've handled the claims: "They paid out in a way that made everybody walking away form the settlement table think they had been treated fairly."