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Litigation Twist Removed, PCA Payments Ready

U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon Wednesday removed the final obstacle blocking settlements for victims of the infamous Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak that resulted in nine deaths and 714 confirmed infections in 46 states in late 2008 and early 2009.


Judge Moon took out one final strange twist between 122 claimants and the $12 million from the personal injury insurance PCA was carrying at the time it began shipping contaminated peanut butter and paste from its Blakely, GA plant.


A claims administrator appointed by the bankruptcy court trustee, defense attorney Alan Maxwell, recommended how to divide up the insurance funds among the victims.


Maxwell, well known for his experience in foodborne illnesses litigation, did not satisfy one person making a claim–Kenneth Hinton.  He sought $5 million, but there were a few problems with Hinton’s story including:


-He claimed to have suffered from Salmonella Typhi when it was Salmonella Typhimurium that was associated with the PCA outbreak.


-His symptoms occurred more than 72 hours after he said he consumed a peanut butter product, which would be outside the window for salmonellosis to occur.


-No one could “verify the existence” of Hinton’s Maryland doctor, either by address or medical license number.

Maxwell recommended nothing be paid to Hinton and the court agreed, and for extra emphasis issued a pre-filing injunction against the would-be Salmonella victim.  As it turns out, he was not only filing claims in bankruptcy court, but had also filed 43 lawsuits in federal courts.


Investigating Hinton’s claims cost the bankruptcy trustee an additional $24,449.09.

The action Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia comes 18 months after PCA filed for bankruptcy in the aftermath of the deadly outbreak that spread quickly among consumers of popular peanut butter products.


“We previously received a substantial settlement contribution from Kellogg, which we applaud for standing up, taking responsibility, and dealing fairly with its injured customers,” said Seattle attorney Bruce Clark.  “Although some of our clients remain dismayed that Stuart Parnell, head of PCA, and author of this entirely avoidable foodborne disaster, has avoided criminal sanctions.”


Kellogg’s purchased peanut butter from PCA’s Georgia plant.  It and facilities in Texas and Virginia were all shut down along with the company.  About 4,000 products containing PCA peanut butter or paste were eventually recalled by several hundred companies.


Investigators for the U.S. House Commerce & Energy Committee produced evidence that seemed to show Parnell ordered product he knew was contaminated with Salmonella shipped anyway.  


FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations was known to be investigating in 2009, but no criminal charges have been brought against anyone involved with the PCA Salmonella outbreak.

© Food Safety News