Stephanie Smith settles with Cargill over toxic meat

Cold Spring's Stephanie Smith, left paralyzed from the waist down after eating a hamburger tainted by E. coli traced to a Cargill meat processing plant, has agreed to settle a lawsuit against the company: It's going to provide for Smith's medical care for the rest of her life.

Precisely what that means in a monetary sense is unknown, because Smith and Cargill agreed to keep terms of the settlement a secret. But Cargill has taken full responsibility for Smith's poisoning.

Smith, a children's dance instructor, filed her $100 million lawsuit against Cargill after her kidneys failed and she suffered seizures. Doctors kept her in a medically induced coma for months while they treated her, and she remains in a wheelchair.

The New York Times picked up Smith's story as part of an investigation into meatpacking that eventually won a Pultitzer prize:

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled "American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties." Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

Here's some video from the Times coverage:

A statement today from the company reads:

Stephanie Smith and Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation announce jointly that they have settled the lawsuit filed by Ms. Smith in December 2009. Ms. Smith, a twenty-two-year-old former dance instructor from Cold Spring, Minn., sued for the severe injuries she suffered as a result of an E. coli O157:H7 infection in Fall 2007. Cargill acknowledged responsibility for her injuries since first learning of them and has been providing financial help to her and her family.

Ms. Smith and Cargill agree that the confidential settlement will provide for Ms. Smith's care throughout her life. She is presently paralyzed from the waist down, but her goal is to dance again. "This settlement will allow Stephanie to continue her fight to return to her greatest passion, dance," said William D. Marler, food safety advocate and Ms. Smith's attorney. "The Smith family appreciates this resolution and looks forward to Stephanie's continued rehabilitation," added Marler.

Cargill deeply regrets Ms. Smith's injuries and is also hopeful for her continued rehabilitation. Cargill has invested more than $1 billion in ongoing meat science research and new food safety technologies and interventions to eliminate E. coli and other naturally occurring pathogens that can lead to food-borne illnesses. The parties' settlement now will be presented to the federal court for approval and dismissal of all claims.

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