More E. coli lawsuits brought against Excel in Sizzler case

MILWAUKEE, WI — Five lawsuits were filed today in Milwaukee County Superior Court against Excel, the company that is alleged to have supplied E. coli O157:H7-contaminated meat to two Milwaukee Sizzler restaurants connected to an outbreak that sickened dozens and killed one small child in July of 2000. Denis Stearns of Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally known for its successful representation of victims of foodborne illness, and Michael Hanrahan of Fox O’Neill and Shannon, a respected Milwaukee law firm, filed the lawsuits on behalf of ten adults and four children, all of whom suffered serious E. coli O157:H7 infections.

The filing of these lawsuits was made possible when the State of Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled in May that Excel could be held liable for allegedly supplying adulterated meat to the Sizzler restaurants. Excel had argued that federal law preempted the plaintiffs’ injury claims, but the Court of Appeals ruled that “federal preemption does not close the doors of Wisconsin courts to claims against Excel.”

“We would have preferred not to file these lawsuits,” said Stearns. “But it was the best decision under the circumstances to protect the rights of our clients, particularly our elderly clients who are increasingly concerned about how their E. coli infections continue to affect their lives. In my view, settlements are always better, but if we have to fight, so be it. Our clients will have to live with the consequences of Excel’s alleged negligence for the rest of their lives.”

According to the complaint filed behalf of Gabrielle and John Cetta, Jr., of Holbrook, New York, one of the minors first became ill three years ago, after eating at a Milwaukee Sizzler restaurant. While John Jr. suffered a comparatively mild E. coli infection, Gabrielle suffered a severe illness, which required hospitalization. She developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (“HUS”), and was hospitalized for 14 days, undergoing kidney dialysis and blood transfusions.

“This Excel case is similar to the current Stampede Meats E. coli outbreak tied to tainted steaks sold throughout the Midwest,” Stearns continued. “It’s time everyone—the USDA and meat producers, too—realized that E. coli is not just a problem in ground beef. If the proper procedures are not followed, it can be a problem in any kind of meat.”

BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of all food-borne illnesses. William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for $12 million. Since 1993 Marler Clark has successfully resolved well over a thousand food-borne illness matters. Total recoveries exceed $75 million. Marler Clark has also litigated on behalf of children against KFC, Bauer Meats, IBP, McDonalds, Hardees, Wendy’s, Subway, Sizzler, and Carl's Jr. Marler Clark recently secured a verdict of $4.75 million against a School District in Eastern Washington.

More about the Sizzler E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.