$13.5 Million Settlement Sizzler E. Coli DeathJun 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The family of a three-year-old Brianna Kriefall - who died eight years ago from exposure to E. coli tainted meat at a Sizzler restaurant - just reached a $13.5 million settlement with Sizzler’s meat supplier and others, according to court records. This settlement is one of the largest in the US that involves a food-borne illness, according to the family’s attorney.
Brianna and her family ate at a Sizzler in South Milwaukee in July 2000. Although Brianna did not eat meat during the meal, Brianna ate watermelon that became contaminated when it touched the tainted meat. Brianna died a week later after fighting E. coli-related hemolytic uremic syndrome, one of the most common causes of sudden, short-term kidney failure in children and causes kidney failure and low blood-cell counts. In addition to Brianna, another 140 people fell sick in that outbreak.
Despite this settlement, the case continues. Sizzler, its local franchise, and an insurance company are suing Excel Corporation, a subsidiary of Cargill Inc. Cargill produced the meat. Until recently, Excel denied its meat was the source of the outbreak; however, genetic testing proved the microbes that made the restaurant patrons sick matched microbes contained in an unopened package of its meat.
Because Brianna fell ill not from eating the meat, but from eating fruit that apparently touched the contaminated meat, Excel argued the restaurant was negligent in training and supervising employees in the safe handling of meat. The Kriefall family settlement includes $8.5 million from Excel and $2 million from E&B Management Co. of Waukesha, the franchise holder for the two restaurants that have since closed. The $2 million was paid by Excel after E&B argued it was responsible for E&B's damages. Sizzler USA's suit against Excel seeks $12 million in lost business.
Meanwhile, a new E. coli outbreak is emerging in Ohio and the numbers of those sickened continues to rise. Most recently, a 55-year-old Delaware County woman was hospitalized for three days, raising Ohio’s cases to seven since June 4. This case is believed to be linked to six cases last week in neighboring locales and may be linked to the May 27 death of a Gahanna woman hospitalized with an E. coli infection that was diagnosed as the same E. coli strain as several Washington state residents whose illnesses were linked to lettuce.
Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and is normally harmless; however, some strains, including those linked to food poisoning, are serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia. In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness with about 73,000 people infected and 61 people dying from E. coli annually. Last year alone, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled over E. coli outbreaks.
Scientists are concerned infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are spreading into the greater population, with several countries reporting cases. Researchers compare the E. coli threat to the worldwide problem of community-acquired MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—an antibiotic-resistant staph. And, now, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.