File photoRecent developments in lawsuits related to a 2011 E. coli outbreak linked to fresh-cut romaine are resulting in a Midwest retailer demanding its supplier be held liable and plaintiffs in another case seeking to add a second distributor and a California grower to the list of defendants.
St. Louis-based Schnucks Supermarket Inc. contends in court documents that its supplier, Vaughan Foods Inc. in Moore, Okla., should be liable under Illinois law if the grocery retailer is found guilty in a case filed March 4 this year in Illinois state court.
Tiffany and Thomas Sinovic filed the case against Schnucks and several of its employees, seeking $800,000 in damages, because Tiffany and their minor daughter became ill and were hospitalized for E. coli infections after eating romaine from a Schnucks salad bar in 2011.
Neither Schnucks officials nor attorneys representing the retailer or the Sinovics responded to calls for comment on the case. The HeplerBroom law firm in St. Louis is representing Schnucks and Belleville, Ill., attorney Thomas Ysursa is representing the Sinovic couple.
A hearing on Schnucks’ Sept. 5 motion to file a third-party petition against Vaughan Foods is set before St. Clair (Illinois) Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson for Oct. 15, according to court records.
Missouri cases seek to name C.H. Robinson, C & E Farms as defendants In two separate cases filed in state court in Missouri, plaintiffs are requesting grower C & E Farms, Salinas, Calif., and C.H. Robinson — doing business as Food Source Monterey — be added as defendants in their pending cases related to illnesses linked to the fresh-cut romaine.
Filed Sept. 10, the Missouri motions contend that Food Source brokered and distributed the romaine, and that C&E Farms grew part of the romaine linked to the outbreak. The Springfield, Mo., law firm Aleshire Robb PC and Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark LLP are together representing the Missouri plaintiffs.
Mike Wilken, public relations manager for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Earl Fiscalini, owner of C & E Farms, said Sept. 17 that he couldn't comment on the pending legal cases.
"But I can tell you we grow and operate by the highest safety standards and always have," said Fiscalini, whose operation was founded in 1985.
Schnucks has maintained it is not responsible for illnesses linked to the fresh-cut romaine.
In December 2011 Mark Vaughan, president of Vaughan Foods, confirmed his company supplied fresh-cut produce to Schnucks, but he declined further comment because of pending court actions.
Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Food and Drug Administration named the retailer or suppliers linked to the outbreak.
CDC officials said they leave that up to the FDA.
FDA officials said they did not name the grower-shipper because at the time of their investigation the farm had already stopped production for the season and none of the samples collected tested positive for the outbreak strain. In its final report on the outbreak, posted March 23, 2012, the CDC’s investigators said 58 people in nine states were sickened. No deaths were reported.