Minneapolis A Minnesota woman who became severely ill from an E. coli infection after eating a tainted hamburger sued a division of agribusiness giant Cargill Inc. on Friday for $100 million.
Stephanie Smith, 22, of Cold Spring, became ill in September 2007 after eating hamburger produced by the Cargill division. Her E. coli infection led to hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that causes kidney failure. She suffered seizures and was in a medically induced coma for three months.
Smith, who had been a children’s dance instructor, has spent two years in rehabilitation and remains in a wheelchair.
She was featured earlier this year in a New York Times story that traced the beef trimmings that went into her burger patty to four plants in two countries, showing how the modern meatpacking industry operates. It generated worldwide attention and spurred Congress to consider tougher food safety laws.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Minneapolis, names Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., which is based in Wichita, Kan.
Her attorney, Bill Marler, a Seattle-based food-illness attorney, said settlement talks between Cargill, Cargill insurance carrier AIG and Smith’s attorneys recently collapsed.
“What it comes down to is Cargill really believes it’s not their fault,” Marler said. “They believe that it’s one of their supplier’s faults, but there’s no evidence to suggest which one of their suppliers is at fault.”
Marler said Smith’s medical bills already total more than $2 million and likely will add up to tens of millions of dollars. He predicted she will need multiple kidney transplants and will likely remain in a wheelchair.
Minnetonka, Minn.-based Cargill has paid for some of her bills.
“Cargill deeply regrets Ms. Smith’s continuing suffering due to her illness,” Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said. “Each time Ms. Smith’s family has asked for financial assistance to cover out-of-pocket and rehabilitation costs, Cargill has advanced funds to help her and her family. We will continue to provide assistance to maximize her recovery and will continue to work with her counsel to reach a fair resolution.”
Marler said Smith’s case is exceptional for the injuries she suffered. “She is far and away the most severely injured person who’s ever survived this that I’ve ever seen,” he said.