Seattle food-illness attorney Bill Marler has advised plaintiffs’ attorneys to bargain directly with the Sheetz convenience store chain and Coronet Foods Inc., the bankrupt Wheeling, W.Virginia company that sold salmonella-contaminated Roma tomatoes to Sheetz.

A similar system was used when Chi-Chi’s restaurant was sued by customers sickened in a 2003 hepatitis A outbreak at a western Pennsylvania restaurant. The restaurant chain settled 340 of 350 claims for more than $21 million, said Marler, who also represents scores of Chi-Chi’s plaintiffs. Hundreds of smaller claims for out-of-pocket medical expenses were also settled without litigation.

Altoona-based Sheetz said it supports mediation.

Food inspectors also said Coronet and Sheetz did nothing wrong, but under the law they can be held liable because they supplied and prepared the tomatoes for human consumption. Nobody died in the Sheetz outbreak. Marler said most claims will be for less than $100,000 to cover medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.