Eight years after a 3-year-old girl died from exposure to tainted meat at a Sizzler restaurant, her family reached a $13.5 million settlement with the company's meat supplier and others, according to court records.
The settlement is among the largest in the nation involving a food-borne illness, according to William Cannon, a lawyer for the family.
Brianna Kriefall and her family had eaten at a Sizzler in South Milwaukee in July 2000. While Brianna didn't eat meat during the meal, lawyers argued that the watermelon she ate had touched tainted meat.
She died a week later after battling E. coli-related hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes kidney failure and low blood-cell counts. Another 140 people fell sick in the outbreak at two Sizzler restaurants.
The court records in the Kriefall case were filed Friday, but the case remains far from over. The national Sizzler chain, its local franchise and an insurance company are suing Excel Corp., the subsidiary of food giant Cargill Inc. that produced the meat.
The remaining issues are scheduled to be heard in court July 7.
A telephone message left with Excel Corp. on Saturday afternoon was not immediately returned.
The Kriefalls' case had been dismissed in 2004 by a different Milwaukee County Circuit judge after Excel lawyers argued the company was exempt from state lawsuits because it had followed federal regulations in handling the beef sold to Sizzler.
An appeals court reversed the dismissal, saying the legal action fit within the federal goal of making food safer for consumers. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Excel's appeal.
Until recently, Excel denied its meat was the source of the outbreak. But genetic testing showed the microbes that made the restaurant patrons sick matched microbes contained in an unopened package of its meat.
Because Brianna got sick not from eating the meat but from eating fruit that apparently touched it, Excel had argued the restaurant was negligent in training and supervising employees in the safe handling of meat.
The Kriefall family settlement includes $8.5 million from Excel and $2 million from E&B Management Co. of Waukesha, the franchise holder for the two restaurants that have since closed. The $2 million was paid by Excel after E&B argued it was responsible for E&B's damages.
Brianna is survived by her father, Doug, and three brothers. Her mother, Connie, died in 2006.
"My only regret is that Connie Kriefall died without knowing about this," Cannon, the family's lawyer, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "This case is a study in perseverance and conviction that we were right."