Attorneys for Sheetz convenience stores and scores of customers sickened during a salmonella outbreak two years ago have settled more than 80 lawsuits in recent weeks and agreed to delay a filing deadline in hopes that dozens of other claims might settle.
Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of the outbreak, which was traced to salmonella-tainted Roma tomatoes. Ordinarily, that would also represent the statute of limitations for some suits, but attorneys for Sheetz, its customers and various insurance companies involved have agreed to push that back to July 21.
"Basically, Sheetz and we want to resolve the claims without having to file lawsuits," said Bill Marler, the Seattle attorney who represents 139 of those who were sickened. Marler and Michael Cortez, Sheetz’s vice president and general counsel, said the 88 settlements in recent weeks have prompted continued settlement talks.
But Marler represents 50 more clients whose claims he hopes to resolve during the three-week deadline extension.
If the cases don’t settle, "the lawsuits are the next logical step in the process," Cortez said. Nobody died in the Sheetz outbreak. Most plaintiffs were sick for several days or weeks and sought damages for everything from medical bills to ruined vacations and embarrassment; one 7-year-old boy, for example, had to wear disposable training pants and lost 10 pounds due to diarrhea.
Others reported more serious injuries, including nerve damage from intravenous tubes inserted to combat dehydration, continuing bouts with irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis, Marler said.
Coronet shut down in October 2004 and filed for bankruptcy shortly after a few lawsuits were filed by other attorneys. Marler and Cortez said Coronet has $11 million dollars worth of insurance that also covers Sheetz, which Marler said is more than enough to cover all the legal claims.