A federal judge on Thursday approved a $12 million settlement to be shared by three Minnesota families and more than 100 other victims of a 2008-09 peanut-borne salmonella outbreak that left nine people dead.
The outbreak traced to Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corp. of America, producer of peanuts and peanut butter, sickened more than 700 in 46 states. Among the deaths linked to the outbreak were those of Shirley Mae Almer, 72; Clifford Tousignant, 78; and Doris Flatgard, 87. All three lived in facilities run by Good Samaritan Homes in Brainerd, Minn., and all had eaten peanut butter.
The $12 million settlement was funded by an insurance policy that Peanut Corp. had with Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. Attorneys normally would have pressed for more damages, but Peanut Corp. is being liquidated and has scant assets.
An attorney for Almer's and Flatgard's families declined to disclose their settlements. Marler & Clark, the law firm representing Tousignant's heirs, said his case was settled for $217,255. Attorney Bill Marler of the Seattle firm said individual settlements for wrongful death cases ranged from about $200,000 to about $1 million. Overall, the roughly 120 plaintiffs in the Peanut Corp. settlement each were paid between about $20,000 and $2 million, he said.
Children of Tousignant and Almer said Thursday that money doesn't bring justice, given that Stewart Parnell, Peanut Corp.'s owner, has never been charged with a crime, though the company has been the target of a criminal investigation. At a congressional hearing in February 2009, Parnell repeatedly invoked his Constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
Federal food regulators claimed Peanut Corp. shipped products that first tested positive for salmonella but produced a negative upon retesting, a violation of good food manufacturing practices. E-mails seized by federal authorities showed Parnell complaining about lost revenue while the growing outbreak was being investigated.
"I'd rather see the guy go to jail [than get any money]," said Marshall Tousignant of Brainerd, one of Clifford Tousignant's six children. "He killed my dad with the tainted peanuts he sold." Tousignant said his dad would have turned 80 on Monday. "My dad always wanted to live to 80 because he said he would have outlived all of his male relatives."
Said Jeff Almer of Savage, one of Shirley Mae Almer's five children, "the person I want to see pay is Stewart Parnell. To me, the guy is worse than Bernie Madoff," Almer said, referring to the disgraced financier serving 150 years in a federal prison for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Madoff "didn't kill anyone," Almer said.
Peanut Corp. of America is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Its creditors are owed more than $30 million, yet the company has few assets to pay them, said Brendan Flaherty, an attorney at Minneapolis-based PritzkerOlsen, which represented Almer and Flatgard.
The individual settlements, approved by U.S. District Judge Norman Moon in Virginia, considered several factors, including a victim's medical costs, wage losses due to illness and simple geography. States differ on how much can be allowed in wrongful-death and injury settlements; Minnesota is among the more conservative states in the amount allowed, attorneys said.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003