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Outbreak News

Family of Sick Boy Waiting for Odwalla to Honor Promise

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

May 17, 1997

TOM PAULSON P-I Reporter

After the 1996 epidemic of E. coli illnesses linked to Odwalla's unpasteurized apple juice, company Chairman Greg Steltenpohl promised stricken individuals and families that the company would cover all medical costs.

"We have paid the medical bills in more than 400 cases and we've settled five of eight lawsuits," Steltenpohl said yesterday. "We stand by what we said."

But Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney representing the family of 3-year-old Michael Beverly, who fell seriously ill and has needed $55,000 worth of medical care, said his clients have yet to see a penny from the juice maker.

"I'm just asking them to do what they said they would do," Marler said.

Marler has filed a lawsuit against Odwalla demanding that the Beverlys be compensated for injuries to their son. Doctors have said that Michael, who was hospitalized for weeks, could lose his kidneys and perhaps later develop diabetes because of the damage from infection by E. coli O157:H7.

Last fall, more than 60 people in Washington, several other states and Canada became sick in an E. coli outbreak that eventually was linked to unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice. A 16-month-old Denver girl died of the bacterial infection.

Odwalla since has used "flash pasteurized" apple juice to protect against the bug. The Food and Drug Administration is looking into requiring that all juice be pasteurized, as is done with milk.

E. coli O157:H7 is a rare but deadly strain of the common E. coli bacteria that has caused deaths and severe illnesses. It is believed to originate in cattle and to contaminate food through contact with cattle feces.

Terry Beverly, Michael's father, says he isn't angry and doesn't blame Odwalla for what happened.

"I don't want to see the company do poorly," Beverly said. "I just want them to do the right thing. They said they'd pay the medical bills and they haven't."

Steltenpohl said yesterday that his company intends to fully compensate the family. But he added that the situation has become complicated because of the litigation and settlement negotiations. He said neither he nor the company's California attorney, John Carlson, could provide specifics.

Marler, however, was quite specific.

The attorney, who won large awards for clients following the fatal 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, noted that he originally pleaded with his legal colleagues not to file suits and to honor Odwalla's promise.

Now, after most other claims have been settled, it may be Marler's clients who go to trial against Odwalla.

"It is kind of ironic," said Kelly Corr, an attorney who settled two lawsuits against Odwalla. Marler had criticized Corr for being too eager to litigate at the time.

But Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney representing the family of 3-year-old Michael Beverly, who fell seriously ill and has needed $55,000 worth of medical care, said his clients have yet to see a penny from the juice maker.

"I'm just asking them to do what they said they would do," Marler said.

Marler has filed a lawsuit against Odwalla demanding that the Beverlys be compensated for injuries to their son. Doctors have said that Michael, who was hospitalized for weeks, could lose his kidneys and perhaps later develop diabetes because of the damage from infection by E. coli O157:H7.

Last fall, more than 60 people in Washington, several other states and Canada became sick in an E. coli outbreak that eventually was linked to unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice. A 16-month-old Denver girl died of the bacterial infection.

Odwalla since has used "flash pasteurized" apple juice to protect against the bug. The Food and Drug Administration is looking into requiring that all juice be pasteurized, as is done with milk.

E. coli O157:H7 is a rare but deadly strain of the common E. coli bacteria that has caused deaths and severe illnesses. It is believed to originate in cattle and to contaminate food through contact with cattle feces.

Terry Beverly, Michael's father, says he isn't angry and doesn't blame Odwalla for what happened.

"I don't want to see the company do poorly," Beverly said. "I just want them to do the right thing. They said they'd pay the medical bills and they haven't."

Steltenpohl said yesterday that his company intends to fully compensate the family. But he added that the situation has become complicated because of the litigation and settlement negotiations. He said neither he nor the company's California attorney, John Carlson, could provide specifics.

Marler, however, was quite specific.

The attorney, who won large awards for clients following the fatal 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, noted that he originally pleaded with his legal colleagues not to file suits and to honor Odwalla's promise.

Now, after most other claims have been settled, it may be Marler's clients who go to trial against Odwalla.

"It is kind of ironic," said Kelly Corr, an attorney who settled two lawsuits against Odwalla. Marler had criticized Corr for being too eager to litigate at the time.

But Marler decided to file suit late last year after it appeared to him that the juice maker's insurance company, AIG, was dictating the legal defense more than Odwalla.

Mediation aimed at settlement failed, Marler said, when the judge decided Odwalla's attorneys were not prepared to make a serious offer. Marler asked for $8 million. Odwalla's attorney, Carlson, offered $200,000.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour in Seattle has set a trial date on Michael Beverly's claim against Odwalla for March 23, 1998.

More on this outbreak: Odwalla Apple Juice E. coli Outbreak

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