Sheetz trial in Tucker County set for December

By Holly Martin
For The Record

PARSONS -- A case involving an alleged salmonella outbreak at Sheetz located in Parsons is set for trial in December.

Tucker Circuit Judge Phillip Jordan presided over a pre-trial conference April 27, setting the trial dates for Dec. 4-8.

Plaintiffs Charles Graham, Nancy Graham, Sarah Graham and Suzanne Benson are suing Sheetz for a total of $70,000 on claims they became violently ill from salmonella as a result of consuming fresh produce at Sheetz in Parsons on July 4, 2004, according to the complaint.

Sheetz has sued third-party defendant Coronet Foods, its fresh produce supplier at the time.

However, the trial may involve as many as nine parties, Sheetz defense attorney Edward Smallwood said.

"There is a series of these cases in Pennsylvania," Smallwood said. "There are the first ones filed in West Virginia. Eventually there will be about nine parties in this case."

Smallwood said if Coronet acts similarly in this case as it has in Pennsylvania cases, it will sue its fresh produce suppliers who, in turn, will sue their suppliers.

Days before the pre-trial conference last week, Coronet did in fact serve claims on two of its suppliers, Consumer Produce and Procacci Brothers, both of Pennsylvania.

According to court records, Coronet claims it purchased its Roma tomatoes from these two entities from May to July 2004.

"In Pennsylvania (Coronet) has brought in everyone," plaintiff attorney Paul Estep said in an interview. "Once we've exchanged all our information, I think there's enough time that trial hopefully doesn't get delayed. But with that many defendants it may take some time."

Jordan said it would be difficult to set a trial date without the other defendants present.

Coronet's lawyer, Eric Anderson, was not present in the pre-trial hearing Thursday.

Estep said in an interview that he demanded the jury trial after his clients, all of whom are from Preston County, tried to settle the case with Sheetz, but were offered barely enough to cover the medical bills.

"We attemped to settle it from Sheetz," Estep said. "From my point of view, my clients bought the food from Sheetz. Sheetz wasn't willing to pay an amount that we thought was reasonable so we didn't have a choice but to file a lawsuit.

"They barely offered us the medical bills and wouldn't even take into account the effect on their lives or lost wages. I thought we should file a lawsuit to keep the pressure on them. If Sheetz wants to get payment from its suppliers, that's fine."

Another pre-trial conference is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 26.

Holly Martin is a reporter for The Parsons Advocate. Find the paper online at www.parsonsadvocate.com

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