Attorneys to Inspect Bil Mar Meat Plant - City & Region/The Grand Rapids Press - February 24, 1999

By: Mary Ann Sabo
City & Region/The Grand Rapids Press
February 24, 1999

Bil Mar Foods will open its doors next week to a handful of attorneys who have filed lawsuits against the Ottawa County meat processor. Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll, who represents clients in two suits against Bil Mar and parent company Sara Lee Corp., said he received word Monday he would be permitted to tour the 14-acre facility in Borculo with one expert between March 2-5.

Moll, who has been asking to inspect the plant since early January, said he would be allowed to take photos and video footage of Bil Mar before the company begins to remodel.

"They said they're going to give everybody around the nation who has filed a case notice that this is what they're going to do," Moll said from his Chicago office.

Arizona attorney Steve Copple, who has also filed two suits against the meat processor, said he also plans to tour Bil Mar in early March.

Arizona health officials confirmed Monday that Mickey H. Vest, a 43-year-old Arizona man who died from listeriosis last month, was infected with the same rare stain of the disease, boosting the nationwide death toll total to 13. Copple is representing Vest's wife and 14-year-old daughter in a wrongful death lawsuit, which has also named Oscar-Meyer and Thorn Apple Valley.

Sara Lee spokesman Jeffrey Smith declined to discuss the matter, saying the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Bil Mar faces at least five lawsuits in connection with its Dec. 22 recall of 15 million pounds of hot dogs and cold cuts after a rare strain of listeria bacteria was found i both opened and unopened packages . That same strain, pattern E, has been linked to 13 deaths and five miscarriages among 82 illnesses in 19 states.

Moll said its important to visit Bil Mar before the company begins making modifications to the plant.

The company, which has been running some limited production since the recall, announced its intention three weeks ago to shift work to sister plants while it reconfigures areas that make retail franks, sliced lunch meats and bulk meats.

Meanwhile, Moll plans to ask a circuit court judge in Chicago today to grant class-action status to a lawsuit he filed in late December.

He filed the original suit on behalf of a retired police officer who claims he was sickened by listeriosis after eating products made by the Ottawa County meat processor.

On Monday, Moll broadened that compliant to include at least eight other people - including a Memphis man whose wife died of listeriosis last year.

He's seeking unspecified damages on behalf of those who became ill, died, miscarried, sought medical treatment or simply bought Bil Mar meats that were being recalled in late December after being linked to a rare strain of listeria bacteria.

"We're alleging that they failed to do the recall prior to December 22 when they had knowledge about this," he said.

"And we're alleging they knew about the listeria before the recall and did not warn consumers about it, as early as June or July."

Moll has also filed a wrongful death suit against Bil Mar and Sara Lee on behalf of another Memphis resident, John Bodnar, whose wife, Helen; died of listeria monocytogenes meningitis last fall.