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ALTOONA, Pa. -- Now that most of the customer lawsuits surrounding Sheetz's spoiled tomatoes have been settled, Sheetz, insurance companies and food suppliers are debating which company will supply funds for the customers' lawsuits, reported the Valley Independent.
After announcing the settlement of more than 80 cases, the company extended the filing deadline to July 21 for customers affected by a salmonella outbreak caused from spoiled tomatoes served by Sheetz stores in 2004, in hopes that an additional 50 suits would settle, CSNews Online reported July 3.
"We stepped up to the plate and took care of our customers. Now we have to take care of the harm that's been done to us,'' Michael Cortez, general counsel for Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz told the Valley Independent.
Most of the money paid to customers has been supplied by U.S. Fire Insurance Co., insurer of Coronet Foods, Inc., the now bankrupt supplier of tomatoes to the Sheetz stores, the newspaper reported.
Coronet's former owner, Howard Long, is also seeking damages done to the business through its suppliers. "I have uncovered zero evidence to suggest that Sheetz did anything wrong other than being a conduit for tainted tomatoes,'' Sheetz's San Diego-based attorney, Fred Gordon told the paper. ''If Coronet is a conduit and Sheetz is a conduit, then you take the next step and determine who the upstream suppliers are," he said. Coronet filed for bankruptcy in October 2004 after customers began filing lawsuits, but Long has bought rights to seek damages for Coronet, according to Gordon.
Government investigators estimate that approximately 400 people were sickened by the tomatoes in the beginning of July 2004 from stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and six additional states, the report stated. The investigators traced the tomatoes to a packing house in Florida, however no evidence of tainting was found there. The investigators also excused Coronet and Sheetz from blame.
Under Pennsylvania's liability laws, Sheetz, Coronet, and the companies and farms in Coronets supply chain can still be sued for selling the tomatoes, the Valley Independent reported.