A Minnesota woman who was left paralyzed after eating an E. coli-contaminated hamburger has reached a settlement with agribusiness giant Cargill.
Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old former dance instructor from Cold Spring, was awarded an undisclosed sum from the company, her attorney and Cargill announced in a joint statement Wednesday.
Smith was in a coma for nine weeks as a result of eating the contaminated burger in 2007. The E. coli infection was traced to a hamburger distributed by Minnesota-based Cargill in 2007.
The family's attorney, Bill Marler, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota last year on behalf of Smith's guardian. Marler said Smith's medical care and rehabilitation has already cost more than $2 million, and are likely to cost millions more throughout her life.
Smith's family could not be reached for immediate comment, but Marler said he and the family are pleased with the settlement.
"Cargill and we both recognize that Stephanie was severely injured, and the settlement will take care of Stephanie's needs for the rest of her life," he said.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said Smith's injuries were "unfortunate and tragic," and that the company accepts responsibility for the contamination. Cargill has been paying for Smith's medical expenses since shortly after her first hospitalization.
"Certainly we're pleased that this has resulted in a settlement that will provide Stephanie Smith with support for the remainder of her life," Martin said.
Smith's case has become one of the most well-known cases of food-borne illness in the country. Smith became ill in September 2007 and later was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes kidney failure. Smith also began having seizures, which led to a coma.
Marler said Smith will likely remain severely disabled for the rest of her life, although he said she's made progress in recent weeks.
"Just last month, she was able to put on braces and walk with a walker for about 100 feet," he said. "That may not sound like a lot to many people, but for Stephanie and what she's been through, it's pretty miraculous."
After the outbreak, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the E. coli that sickened Smith to meat supplied by Cargill.
More than two dozen others throughout the country also fell ill, and Cargill responded by recalling about 845,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties.
Martin said the company is committed to food safety and has taken steps to reducing the risk of future outbreaks. The company has developed new technology to detect pathogens, and is experimenting with a cattle vaccine to prevent contamination, he said.
But Martin added that, despite those efforts, the company cannot prevent all outbreaks.
"The technology that exists today is not capable of 100 percent elimination of pathogens that are in meat," he said.
The settlement must receive final court approval before it becomes official.
(MPR reporters Tim Nelson and Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report.)