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Mr. Food Illness Esquire
What about Taco John’s and Taco Bell?

Against Taco John’s, we’re representing 15 people. We’ve got three lawsuits filed, two in Iowa and one in Minnesota. Apparently, there’s an unnamed grower in California that they have found a genetic match to the outbreak. So I don’t know exactly where that’s going to go.

And in the Taco Bell case, we have three lawsuits filed. One in Pennsylvania, and two in New York. We represent 25 people. In those instances, we have named Taco Bell and Ready Pac.  

You recently complimented Taco John’s and Taco Bell for how they handled their E. coli outbreaks. Why?

They viewed the victim as their customer…. Stepping out and offering to pay your customers’ medical bills and their wage loss and setting up a 1-800 number for claims, it does two things. One, it shows that the corporation is actually interested in their customers. Two, it also limits lawsuits and claims. If a company is willing to pay lost wages and medical bills, there’s no reason for a person to hire a lawyer or make a claim.

Seems like Taco John’s and Taco Bell did nothing wrong. It’s not like they have an E. coli X-ray machine in the kitchen. Why sue the restaurants instead of just the suppliers or farmers?

That’s a great question. It’s a question that the restaurants have the hardest time dealing with.

Any product you buy that is defective, the manufacturer of that defective product is strictly liable under the law. And the [food] product manufacturer is defined fairly broadly. It would include somebody in a restaurant who manufactures a taco. They are strictly liable for providing a defective taco. They’re responsible for that contaminated lettuce even though they didn’t contaminate it.

And you can say, ‘That just doesn’t seem very fair.’ But the reality is that the Taco John’s and the Taco Bells and the Doles of the world have the opportunity to put pressure on their suppliers to not supply contaminated product. They have the right to say to their suppliers, ‘You poisoned my customer, and I think that the customer has got a legitimate claim. I want you to pay it.’

Do you ever turn down a case?

We turn down 95 percent of the proposed cases.

What’s the craziest proposal you’ve had?

One lady said her husband had opened a jar of salsa, and it smelled really badly. But he chose to eat it anyway. As he was eating it, he found what they described as a lump of flesh that looked like the back of a human hand. They were actually quite upset that we wouldn’t represent them. Just because you’re grossed out, I don’t think you have a legitimate claim.

Taco John’s and the Taco Bells and the Doles of the world have the opportunity to put pressure on their suppliers to not supply contaminated product.”
So you don’t believe in frivolous lawsuits?

I think you need to focus on legitimate claims.

What about all these obesity and trans-fats cases. Are you interested in those?

Because of our visibility, we’ve been approached by lots of people who want us to take on trans-fat cases or obesity cases. We didn’t want to take them.


Those cases would have gotten more traction had those individuals spent more time working with the companies and legislators as opposed to a courtroom. The courtroom is a good place to seek recompense for injuries sustained, such as with the E. coli cases. It’s not a really good place to change really broad social policies.

All photos provided by Marler Clark.
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Fred Minnick is a professional writer based in Louisville, Kentucky.