Sheetz Settles Important Tomato Salmonella LawsuitNov 28, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
A Sheetz Salmonella lawsuit has been settled in Pennsylvania for an undisclosed amount. The lawsuit, filed by Max Christian Anslinger of Altoona, Pennsylvania, was a notable case among the many claims filed over the Salmonella tainted tomatoes served at some Sheetz locations. According to Associated Press reports, it was through the Anslinger lawsuit’s discovery process that an attempt was made to determine where exactly the Sheetz Salmonella contaminated tomatoes came from.
The Sheetz tomato Salmonella outbreak occurred in 2004, when more than 500 people in 5 states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia were sickened by tomatoes served on sandwiches sold at the convenience stores. Salmonella bacteria cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 72 hours of exposure. Children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to complications from Salmonella poisoning. In rare cases, extreme instances of Salmonella poisoning can lead to a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, which is associated with chronic arthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Salmonella bacteria sicken 40,000 people every year. Although the true number could be much higher, because it is estimated that for every case of Salmonella poisoning reported, two others are unreported.
Anslinger was among the victims sickened with Salmonella by the Sheetz tomatoes. In August, Blair County Judge Jolene Kopriva concluded that Altoona-based Sheetz and its vegetable wholesaler, Coronet Foods, could not pinpoint where the tainted tomatoes originated. So, Kopriva dismissed claims brought by Anslinger and other customers against two tomato suppliers and six farms or other businesses that may have grown the tomatoes. Anslinger’s attorney told the Associated Press that the August ruling paved the way for the settlement.
For its part, Sheetz is in the process of appealing Judge Kopriva’s August decision. If that ruling is overturned, Sheetz could pursue claims against the tomato suppliers and farms in order to recoup some of what it lost in the tomato Salmonella litigation. Sheetz still has a lawsuit pending against Wheeling, W.Va.-based Coronet seeking reimbursement for the costs associated with defending and settling hundreds of lawsuits, lost profits and other damages.
The CDC estimates that Salmonella from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multistate Salmonella outbreaks since 1990. In most cases –as in the case of the Sheetz Salmonella contamination - it is difficult to pinpoint the source of such contamination. However, because the Sheetz outbreak and several other restaurant tomato Salmonella outbreaks spanned so many states, the CDC has surmised that the bacterial contamination occurred early in the distribution chain, either at farms or packing facilities, rather than at the restaurants themselves.