Minn. woman sues Cargill for $100M over tainted meat

A Minnesota woman who was paralyzed after being sickened by an E. coli-contaminated hamburger is seeking $100 million from the company that supplied the meat.

Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old former dance instructor from Cold Spring, was in a coma for nine weeks as a result of an E. coli infection traced to hamburger distributed by Minnesota-based Cargill in 2007.

Smith's attorney, Bill Marler, filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on behalf of Smith's guardian. Marler said Smith's medical care and rehabilitation has already cost more than $2 million and is likely to cost millions more throughout her life.

The lawsuit came after negotiations between Cargill and Smith's family broke down, Marler said.

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"We were in Minneapolis earlier this week attempting to settle the case with Cargill, and we were unable to do so. So it left us with really no alternative but to file," Marler said.

Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said in a statement that the company "deeply regrets" Smith's suffering and will continue to help Smith pay for medical care.

"We will continue to provide assistance to maximize her recovery, and will continue to work with her counsel to reach a fair resolution," Klein 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.

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.

Marler represented several others sickened in the outbreak, but Smith's case is the only one that remains unsettled.

While Marler acknowledged that Cargill has helped Smith pay her medical bills, he said Smith's condition is likely permanent. She isn't likely to be able to walk again, can't have children and could require a transplant for renal disease, Marler said.

"Stephanie by far and away is the most severely injured person who has ever survived an outbreak of E. coli," Marler said. "It's a real tragedy what happened to her from eating a hamburger."