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Two Years After Outbreak, Parties Settle Most Salmonella Suits in Pa.

Attorneys for Pennsylvania-based 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.

The outbreak began on July 1, 2004 and eventually more than 400 people became ill in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and six other states. Federal investigators traced the tomatoes to a Florida packing house. The federal investigation absolved Altoona-based Sheetz Inc. and the tomato wholesaler, Coronet Foods Inc., of Wheeling, W.Va. But under Pennsylvania’s strict liability laws, both can still be sued because they sold the tomatoes.

Coronet shut down in October 2004 and filed for bankruptcy shortly after a few lawsuits were filed by other attorneys. Seattle attorney William Marler 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.

Sheetz’s insurance company and two that insure Coronet must still determine who will pay what share of the settlements. Besides Marler’s cases, Sheetz has settled 600 claims out of court, ranging from people who got ill to customers who were simply concerned about becoming sick. Most of the 600 contacted the company through a toll-free hot line.