Dole settles civil suits related to listeria outbreak

Dole has settled two lawsuits related to a listeria outbreak, which was linked to Dole s Springfield facility. KATIE WEDELL / STAFF

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Dole has settled two lawsuits related to a listeria outbreak, which was linked to Dole s Springfield facility. KATIE WEDELL / STAFF

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has settled two separate civil lawsuits related to a listeria outbreak last year tied to the company’s Springfield plant.

Court documents filed in U.S. District Court show the company recently reached settlement agreements with plaintiffs in two separate cases. The terms of both agreements were not disclosed.

The most recent case was filed after Ellen H. DiStefano, 79, of Franklin County, became ill on Jan. 17 after eating a salad she bought in Belmont County that was packaged in Springfield, according to the initial complaint. The complaint alleged she was taken to a hospital, diagnosed with an infection caused by the listeria monocytogenes bacteria and died on Feb. 27.

Company officials have denied responsibility for the incident and argued its product was not defective when it left the company’s facility. Officials from Dole did not return calls and emails seeking comment Friday.

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Company officials closed the Springfield plant in January last year after an investigation linked the site to an outbreak of listeria, a food-borne bacteria typically found in raw vegetables and meats, as well as some soft cheeses. The facility has since reopened.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the outbreak affected at least 19 people in the U.S., including one person from Michigan who died. The Public Health Agency of Canada has also reported 14 cases in five provinces, including three deaths, although it hasn’t been determined if listeria contributed to the cause of those deaths.

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About 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis occur annually in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Attorneys representing DiStefano’s family declined to comment on the case Friday, but court records show the case was resolved by mutual agreement of the parties.

“The parties hereby jointly notify the court that the above-captioned matter was resolved by mutual agreement of the parties,” court records show. “The parties respectfully request that the court administratively stay the case pending completion of further matters associated with this resolution, at which time the parties will submit a formal notice of dismissal.”

READ MORE: FDA: Dole knew of listeria in Springfield plant before outbreak

The company also reached a settlement in a second, separate civil case after a Warren County woman filed a federal lawsuit against Dole last spring.

Constance Georgostathis sought damages after the complaint alleged her mother, Kiki Christofield, was left in a coma after eating salad tainted with listeria from the company’s Springfield plant. The company had also denied those allegations.

DETAILS: New lawsuit filed in Dole listeria outbreak linked to Springfield

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney representing the family, confirmed that case has also been settled but declined to provide further details of the agreement.

Marler said he is working on two additional, similar cases related to the outbreak that have not yet been filed. He said he is talking with the company about resolving those cases as well.

Federal investigators became aware of the outbreak using PulseNet, a network used to monitor food poisoning cases. They eventually tied the outbreak to 22 packaged salad products under the Dole brand as well as several store brands for Kroger, Aldi, Meijer and Wal-Mart. Dole stopped production and voluntarily recalled the affected products.

Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak was the first time a listeriosis outbreak was tied to leafy vegetables. That contributed to the length of time it took investigators to identify the source of the listeriosis outbreak, federal officials said.

The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of an investigation into an outbreak of listeriosis that has been linked to salad mixes packaged at Dole’s facility in Springfield, including digging into the plant’s inspection records.

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