The requirement that lawsuit settlements reached on behalf of children go back to federal court for approval is giving the public an early look at what last year’s nationwide Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak may eventually cost egg baron Jack DeCoster’s insurer.
The 2010 SE outbreak sickened at least 1,939 people and led to the recall of more than a half billion eggs.
Two Iowa egg producers, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, were found responsible for the contaminated eggs. DeCoster owns Wright, which his son operates, and has ownership interests in Hillandale. A jointly used feed mill might have been the common source of the contamination between the two operations.
Selective Insurance, DeCoster’s carrier, reached settlements last week in lawsuits brought by food safety attorney Bill Marler on behalf of children for payouts that totaled $366,000. The settlements then went to U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett for approval.
A $250,000 payment goes to a 3-year old Texas boy who suffered from a life-threatening infection of the bones and muscles and required a weeklong hospital stay.
A $100,000 settlement was also reached on behalf of an 11-year old California girl who was violently ill from Salmonella poisoning and required four days of hospital care. A 16-year-old Iowa girl who consumed an egg sandwich at a restaurant and needed emergency room medical attention was awarded $16,000.
The largest settlement includes $70,000 for the parents of the Texas boy and $15,000 for his direct medical costs. A $100,000 annuity will guarantee payments to him of $25,000 at age 18, $50,000 at age 21, and $119,059 at age 25.
In a statement, DeCoster said his family “continues to sympathize” with victims of the SE outbreak and is “pleased to begin resolving these cases.”
Marler, who is the publisher of Food Safety News, declined to provide any details on settlements involving the adult plaintiffs he represents. Those cases do not require court approvals, and usually are concluded without settlement amounts being publicly disclosed.
Marler says his firm carefully screened potential clients before agreeing to represent them. He said this was one foodborne illness event where it was difficult to connect all the dots between the ill people, the food and the outbreak.
There is no way of knowing precisely how many egg lawsuits remain to be settled. A Chicago law firm unsuccessfully sought to get a class action lawsuit certified, but it was withdrawn. The September settlement conference Marler participated in may have resolved as many as 40 cases.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta reported 3,578 SE illnesses in the U.S. between May 1 and Nov. 30, 2010. The CDC figures the difference between that number and 1,939 are the non-outbreak related cases.
CDC also identified 29 “restaurant or event” clusters of salmonellosis in 11 states, finding that Wright was the egg supplier in 15 of those cases.
California, Colorado, and Minnesota joined the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in concluding that Wright was the common source of contaminated shell eggs and that Hillandale was “another potential source.”