Sara Lee Faces Suit Over Bacteria Death - Chicago Sun Times - February 3, 1999

By: William McQuillen
Chicago Sun Times
February 3, 1999

Sara Lee Corp., the largest U.S. processed-meat company, was sued Tuesday by a Tennessee woman's family, who said the woman died from eating the company's Ball Park hot dogs that were linked to a deadly outbreak of listeriosis in 17 states.

The family filed suit after Helen Bodnar died of listeria monocytogenes meningitis as a result of eating Ball Park hot dogs contaminated with listeria bacteria, the attorney said. The suit was filed in the state court of Chicago.

It is believed to be the first wrongful death suit against Sara Lee, the largest U.S. processed-meat company, over contaminated meat from its Zeeland plant in December and recalled hot dogs and deli meats produced there after the initial link was made between its products and and an outbreak of listeriosis.

Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed at least 79 cases of the food-borne infection linked to the company's meats in 17 states. Listeriosis infections killed twelve people and caused three women to have miscarriages, the CDC said.

"Tests conducted by the (CDC) identified the same unique strain of the listeria bacteria in both Helen Bodnar and unopened meat products from Sara Lee." said Kenneth Moll, her family's attorney.

A spokeswoman for Sara Lee said that the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The company voluntarily recalled its meats after the listeriosis outbreaks were linked to the hot dogs produced at its Michigan plant. At the time, Sara Lee said it would take a pretax charge of $50 million to $70 million against second-quarter earnings for the recall.

In December, Moll filed another lawsuit against Sara Lee on behalf of all the people who had eaten contaminated meat products. The suit is asking for class-action status.

The products in the December recall include some lots of hot dogs sold under Ball Park, Bil Mar, Bryan Bunsize and Bryan 3-lb. Club Pack brands, and meats sold under the Grillmaster, Hygrade, Mr. Turkey, Sara Lee Deli Meat and Sara Lee Home Roast brands.

Sara Lee also makes Hanes underwear, Coach leather goods and Sara Lee frozen desserts.