Chipotle settles nearly 100 foodborne illness complaints

“It was the right thing to do,” company executives say

Over the past few months, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has settled at least 96 lawsuits filed by victims of a series of foodborne illness outbreaks last year, according to an attorney.

Bill Marler, of Seattle-based Marler Clark LLP, a law firm that specializes in foodborne illness cases, said Chipotle has settled 96 of 97 complaints he brought on behalf of clients who fell ill during the series of outbreaks last year. The settlements, which have occurred on a case-by-case basis since March, were first reported by Reuters.

Marler’s cases included victims of three E. coli outbreaks: one limited to the Seattle area, and two others that sickened 60 people in 14 states, as well as bouts of salmonella in Minnesota and norovirus in Massachusetts and California.

The one complaint still pending, involving a young girl sickened by E. coli, has complexities that may take some time to resolve, Marler said.

Chris Arnold, Chipotle communications director, said the company chose to settle those claims “simply because we thought it was the right thing to do for those customers.”

Terms of the settlement are confidential, but Marler said Chipotle responded “very professionally” and addressed the overall concern, which was whether the customers would be “fairly compensated for what they went through.”

Arnold would not say whether other lawsuits filed by customers sickened in the outbreaks are pending. 

Chipotle is also facing a federal criminal investigation related to the outbreaks, as well as civil charges filed by shareholders who allege that the company misled investors about the safety of the chain’s food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the outbreaks officially over in February, and Chipotle has worked hard since then to beef up food-safety protocols and bring back lost customers with freebies and discounts that are expected to continue through the end of the year.

Foodborne illness complaints are not always filed in court, but court documents showed at least one other lawsuit filed in Minnesota that was filed. That case, which was not filed by Marler, is related to the salmonella outbreak, and appears to be pending.

Marler said Chipotle may also have settled some cases directly with people who fell ill, without lawyers getting involved.

Although new cases have trickled in this year, Marler said he doesn’t expect more victims to come forward with complaints.

“People that had claims or wanted to bring them have probably already done so,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marler noted that even some of his clients who suffered severe illness in the outbreaks have remained Chipotle fans.

One teenage girl who was hospitalized asked if she could have coupons for Chipotle in her settlement agreement. The Denver-based chain obliged with a generous number, Marler said.

“I think she was more happy with that than the settlement,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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