Iowa Pair Agree to Settlement in Taco John’s Lawsuit

December 18, 2007

A lawsuit filed by northeast Iowa residents who became ill after eating tainted lettuce at Taco John’s restaurants in the Waterloo area has been settled out of court.

Karen Hibben-Levi, of Waterloo, and the parents of Autumn Saul had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids against the Taco John’s franchise holders after Hibben-Levi and Saul contracted E. Coli poisoning. Taco John’s is based in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Hibben-Levi, 66, had eaten at a Taco John’s location on Broadway Street in Waterloo, while Saul, 10, ate at the Cedar Falls restaurant on University Avenue.

Hibben-Levi and Saul were two of 81 people who reported illness after eating at Taco John’s restaurants in Iowa and Minnesota in late November and early December 2006. Lettuce tainted with a strain of the E. coli bacteria was linked to the outbreak.

Terms of the settlement were confidential.

Both Hibben-Levi and Saul were hospitalized for days after they became ill after eating at Taco John’s. Public health officials said at the time that food at Taco John’s restaurants in Austin and Albert Lea, Minn., and Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa, were tainted.

According to the FDA, 47 people from Iowa, 33 people from Minnesota, and one person from Wisconsin reported E. coli infections after eating at Taco John’s.

Overall, 26 people were hospitalized with E. coli infections. Two of those people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that can cause permanent kidney damage.

In Black Hawk County health officials identified 33 people who became ill with E. coli infections after eating at the Cedar Falls restaurant. Fourteen were hospitalized.

The strain of E. coli was traced to produce growers in California.

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