Settlements Reached Over Deaths From Tainted Spinach

Sunday, April 22nd 2007, 2:21 pm
By: News On 6

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) _ The companies that grew, processed and marketed contaminated spinach that led to a nationwide E. coli outbreak last year have settled lawsuits in the deaths of three women.

The attorney for the families of Ruby Trautz, 81, of Bellevue, Neb., Betty Howard, 83, of Richland, Wash., and June Dunning, 86, of Hagerstown, Md., said the women died after eating fresh spinach bagged under the Dole label.

``They just didn't die immediately after eating it, but they got sick,'' said attorney Bill Marler. ``But there's no question that it came from Dole baby spinach, or else there wouldn't have been a settlement.''

Federal officials announced a massive recall of bagged fresh spinach last September, as nearly 200 people were sickened after eating the leafy greens processed by Natural Selections LLC under a number of labels, including Dole. Inspectors eventually traced the E. coli strain to cattle or wild pig feces found in the San Benito County spinach fields of Mission Organics, which grew the spinach.

Terms of the settlements were not disclosed.

Sarah Brew, an attorney for Dole Food Co., confirmed the settlements were reached in late March, but declined to comment further.

Attorneys for Mission Organics, based in Salinas, and Natural Selection Foods, based in San Juan Bautista, could not be reached for comment.

Marler said all of the parties are ``liable under the law from a consumer's perspective,'' and they and their insurance companies all came to an agreement on the settlements.

The three women, who Marler said either tested positive for the E. coli strain or ate from a bag of Dole spinach that tested positive, are the only confirmed deaths from the outbreak.

But the companies still face legal action by dozens who were sickened by the contaminated spinach. Some eventually will have to get kidney transplants, said Marler, who is representing 90 other victims in 26 states.