Meagher & Geer partner Leatha Wolter is quoted in a June 8, 2008 article in the New York Times “Out of Church Kitchen and Into the Courts,” by Andrew Martin. The article concerns Leatha’s client, Salem Lutheran Church of Longville,MN, and a pending lawsuit in which they are a defendant. In the suit a Nebraska meat processor claims that Salem Church should be held responsible for tainted meatballs served at a church buffet. In July 2006, Carolyn Hawkinson died and Ellie Wheeler became seriously ill after eating beef meatballs allegedly contaminated with E. coli bacteria. At least 15 other people were also sickened. In the litigation, claims are made against Nebraska Beef Ltd., and others involved in producing, distributing and selling the beef. Nebraska Beef counter-sued the church. The blame spreading tactics in the case are noteworthy. It is unusual but not unprecedented for a meat company to sue the victims. In the NYT article, plaintiff Stanton Hawkinson, the widower of Carolyn Hawkinson, commented, “To think that [Nebraska Beef] can put out a contaminated product and then go after the people who prepared it.” The meat industry and federal regulators have long tried to shift responsibility for food safety to consumers. A trial date has not yet been set.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the E. coli 0157:H7 variant sickens about 73,000 people and kills 61 each year in the United States. More broadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. This amounts to one in four Americans becoming ill after eating foods contaminated with such pathogens as E. coli, Salmonella, and Hepatitis A.