MILWAUKEE A jury awarded $7.1 million in compensation to Sizzler USA on Wednesday to cap a long-running dispute with meat supplier Excel Corp. over a lethal E. coli outbreak in 2000.
The verdict found that the subsidiary of Cargill Inc. had supplied contaminated meat to two franchised Sizzlers in the Milwaukee area, where cross-contamination tainted raw salad bar items. Among the victims was 3-year-old Brianna Kriefall, who died after eating watermelon at one of the restaurants.
Excel argued that now-defunct franchisee E&B Management Co. was to blame for mishandling the meat.
An attorney for Sizzler, Fred Gordon, said the jury "acknowledged that it is unacceptable for the meat industry to believe they can place poisonous product into the food supply and let someone else clean up their mess."
Sizzler, E&B and its insurer have paid an estimated $6.5 million to settle more than 150 E. coli-related claims.
Sizzler sued Excel in 2001, and the insurance company Secura joined the suit in 2006.
Sizzler president Kerry Kramp said, "We hope this verdict will help assure the American public that food safety is a very high priority for Sizzler USA and the entire restaurant industry."
Excel officials could not be reached for comment. Excel reportedly settled a claim by the Kriefall family last month by paying $13.5 million.