Sheetz Settles Tomato Lawsuit

Confidential agreement ends battle over tainted product that sickened customers

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. -- A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by Sheetz Inc. over how a supplier owed the company for providing it with tainted tomatoes in July 2004. A Blair County, Pa., jury was expected to spend much of this week hearing the case between Sheetz and supplier Coronet Foods Inc. of Wheeling, W.Va., but the trial was called off after Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva was informed of the out-of-court settlement, according to a report in the Altoona Mirror.

Terms of the settlement reached on Friday were confidential, although [image-nocss] Sheetz indicated that a conservative estimate of the damages it suffered because of the bad tomatoes was more than $11 million. Sheetz offered no comment to CSP Daily News on the issue.

Coronet Foods admitted its liability in providing tainted tomatoes to many Sheetz stores in Pennsylvania and surrounding states July 12, 2004. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, more than 425 people were stricken with salmonella poisoning as a result of the bad tomatoes.

Sheetz had 330 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina at the time of the incidents. The salmonella-tainted tomatoes affected customers in all of those states, court documents state.

The original lawsuit filed in Blair County was brought against Sheetz and Coronet by Tyrone, Pa., resident Max C. Anslinger, who said he became very ill after eating some of the tomatoes.

"I'm just glad it's over," Anslinger told the newspaper.

Sheetz made an effort to settle with its customers so that Anslinger and many others who suffered illness were reimbursed for their medical problems.

The lawsuit, however, continued in Blair County Court as Coronet and Sheetz joined many other businesses to the lawsuit, including tomato growers from as far away as Florida.

Kopriva eventually dismissed civil charges against the tomato producers because of the inability to pinpoint the particular location where the tainted vegetables were grown. This meant the lawsuit got down to how much Sheetz was owed by Coronet, a company that declared bankruptcy in 2004.

Attorney Eric Anderson, representing Coronet, was not available for comment, according to the newspaper report.

Mike Cortez, Sheetz vice president and general counsel, told the newspaper the convenience-store chain took steps to maintain quality control of its food products prior to July 2004, but he said procedures have been stepped up since the scare "to assure our product is the safest possible."

Sheetz now takes steps to assure the purity of the foods before they arrive at local stores, and once in the stores, the products are inspected again, Cortez said.

Sheetz is contemplating an appeal to Judge Kopriva's ruling dismissing lawsuits against the tomato growers now that the legal action against Coronet has been settled, Cortez said.