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A Seattle law firm is pushing to take the lead in tort actions against Taco Bell Corp., its parent company and a food supplier over the latest outbreak of E. coli-contaminated food in the Northeastern United States. William D. Marler of Seattle’s Marler Clark, has filed strict liability actions in federal court in New York and Pennsylvania, though two New York personal injury lawyers filed single-plaintiff actions in New York state courts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The federal suits allege breach of warranty, strict liability and negligence. They seek unspecified damages against Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell; Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc., Taco Bell’s parent company; and food supplier Ready Pac Produce Inc. of Irwindale, Calif. Keller v. Yum! Brands Inc., No. 6:06-cv-1480 (N.D.N.Y.), and Minnis v. Yum! Brands Inc., No. 06-5392 (E.D. Pa.). Marler said that he expects to file a similar federal complaint in New Jersey. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not announced the specific cause of the E. coli outbreak in Taco Bell restaurants that so far has affected more than 70 people in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Yum! Brands and Ready Pac did not return calls for comment. As of press time, investigators were uncertain as to the specific cause of the contamination. Although Taco Bell’s supplier and packager of green onions were named originally in the federal complaints, green onions are no longer believed to have caused the outbreak. But for veteran food litigator Marler, who said that he has been involved “in every major food case since Jack in the Box”-litigation arising out of an E. coli outbreak in Jack in the Box restaurants in California in 1993-”It’s d�j� vu: the same players, the same defense lawyers, the same insurers,” he said. Marler noted that his firm filed a lawsuit in the case over E. coli-contaminated spinach in summer 2005 before the FDA announced that spinach was the problem because “our clients identified it as Dole Baby Spinach. “There’s no question that an outbreak occurred at Taco Bell. Taco Bell has already thrown its suppliers under the bus,” he said. But in this instance, Marler was not the first to the courthouse. Andrew B. Siben of Siben & Siben, a personal injury firm in Bay Shore, N.Y., filed the first Taco Bell E. coli case, in New York state court on behalf of Tyler Vormittag, 11, and his mother, Diana Vormittag, of Medford, N.Y. Vormittag v. Taco Bell Corp., No. 06-33193 (Suffolk Co., N.Y., Sup. Ct.). Tyler Vormittag was hospitalized overnight after several days’ severe gastrointestinal distress allegedly caused by Taco Bell food. The action names Yum! Brands and Taco Bell only.

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