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Judge Allows Salmonella Victims to Sue

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- A West Virginia federal bankruptcy judge has allowed more than 80 people who claim they were sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes to sue the company that supplied the tomatoes along with Sheetz Inc., according to an Associated Press report.

Federal Judge L. Edward Friend II signed an order Wednesday allowing plaintiffs to sue Coronet Foods Inc., a bankrupt Wheeling, W.Va., company, and Sheetz, after attorneys for Coronet said they didn't want to mediate the lawsuits.

Seattle food-illness attorney Bill Marler, who had sought mediation, said he planned to file a class-action lawsuit Thursday naming Coronet.

Eric Anderson, the Pittsburgh attorney defending Coronet against lawsuits, declined to comment, saying he hadn't had time to talk with Coronet officials. Coronet's bankruptcy attorney, Charles J. Kaiser Jr., said he hadn't seen the order but any awards would be paid from Coronet's insurance.

Coronet shut down in October and filed for bankruptcy shortly after a few lawsuits were filed. The company has $11 million dollars worth of insurance covering it, Marler has said.

Mike Cortez, vice president and general counsel for Sheetz, said the order didn't necessarily preclude the convenience store chain from settling the claims. Cortez said Sheetz's goal has been, "let's get them in, find out what their claims are and take care of them."

More than 400 people were sickened in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and six other states after eating Roma tomatoes served at Sheetz stores last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC traced the tainted tomatoes to a Florida packing house, which it didn't identify, but said the packing house followed food-safety practices and no trace of the bacteria was found there.

Food inspectors 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 has said most claims will be for less than $100,000 to cover medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
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