Woman sues Cargill for $100 million in E. coli case

by Bryan Salvage
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SEATTLE, WASH. — Stephanie Smith, 22, a Minnesota dance instructor who was left paralyzed after consuming a burger tainted with E. coli, filed suit for $100 million on Dec. 4 against Cargill, which allegedly produced the contaminated meat, according to a news release posted on the web site of the Marler Clark law firm.

According to the news release, Ms. Smith attempted mediation with the company, but was unable to come to an agreement with them. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Stephanie’s guardian, William R. Sieben, in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota by Bill Marler of the law firm Marler Clark, and by Jardine, Logan and O’Brien of St. Paul.

In an e-mail response to MEAT&POULTRY.com requesting a Cargill statement on the lawsuit, Cargill spokesman Mark Klein wrote that Cargill deeply regrets Ms. Smith’s continuing suffering due to her illness. "Each time Ms. Smith’s family has asked for financial assistance to cover out-of-pocket and rehabilitation costs, Cargill has advanced funds to help her and her family," he added. "We will continue to provide assistance to maximize her recovery and will continue to work with her counsel to reach a fair resolution."

"I have never seen someone sickened this severely and survive," said Mr. Marler, who is Ms. Smith’s attorney. "This young woman has been on a horrifying and unimaginable journey just to regain basic motor and communication skills. She has lost the ability to walk, to dance, to have a family, to work or care for herself. She is tied to a wheelchair and a pharmacy of medications to address all the medical issues she struggles with. She will likely need multiple kidney transplants. I don’t think it’s possible to adequately convey in a sentence or two the massive challenges Stephanie has faced and continues to face."

After eating a hamburger allegedly produced by Cargill in September 2007, Ms. Smith became ill and was diagnosed with an E. coli infection. She rapidly deteriorated and was determined to have hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli that causes kidney failure. She also began having seizures, which lead to a coma, where she remained for three months, on a ventilator and dialysis. When doctors were able to bring her out of the coma, the full extent of the injury to her brain, organs and abilities began to be apparent.

As a result of her illness, Ms. Smith has spent two years in rehabilitation, both inpatient and at home. She is in a wheelchair, where she will likely remain. She will require constant care and medical attention for the rest of her life. Her medical bills — already more than $2 million dollars — will continue to add up to tens of millions of dollars, the news release concluded.

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