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Tainted tomato case headed for mediation

Lawyers may begin trying to hammer out financial settlements for hundreds of people who were sickened by a batch of salmonella-tainted tomatoes last summer.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who specializes in food-related illness, said that if a judge approves, he will begin talks with attorneys for the Altoona, Pennsylvania-based Sheetz convenience store chain and its former supplier, the now bankrupt Coronet Foods Inc. of Wheeling, West Virginia.

Marler represents 98 of the more than 400 people who were sickened in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and six other states after eating Roma tomatoes served at Sheetz stores last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the produce to a Florida packing house where no trace of the bacteria was found.

Food inspectors also said Coronet and Sheetz did nothing wrong, but they can be held liable because they supplied and prepared the tomatoes for human consumption.

Marler said claims in the current case range from $30,000 to $800,000, depending on the severity of the victims’ illness, whether they were hospitalized and whether they have continuing health problems.