Walmart agreed this week to settle nearly two dozen lawsuits filed by families of victims who died in a 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people and was traced by federal health officials to cantaloupe grown by Colorado-based Jensen Farms.
The terms of the settlement remain confidential, but it resolves all 23 claims against Walmart, which sold the tainted cantaloupe in several states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska.
The plaintiffs have reached settlements with a few other smaller retailers, but the lawsuits will proceed against Kroger grocery chain, food safety auditor The Primus Group, and Frontera Produce, and a number of other retailers and businesses.
“We are committed to our customers’ safety, and we take food-safety concerns like this very seriously,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in a written statement, adding that the retail giant began pulling Jensen Farms cantaloupe off its shelves in Colorado and other states once it learned of the listeria outbreak.
Some of the lawsuits Walmart faced, however, said the retailer should have been more aggressive in its response to the outbreak, such as issuing faster warnings to consumers who bought the melons. After the outbreak, Walmart itself sued companies involved in the inspection and distribution of the cantaloupe, but has not disclosed the status of that litigation.
Holly, Colorado-based Jensen Farms filed for bankruptcy less than a year after the listeria outbreak. Lawsuits that targeted the farm were resolved through bankruptcy court.
Eric and Ryan Jensen, the owners of Jensen Farms, pleaded guilty in October to introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, aiding and abetting, and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution. That amount was reduced drastically to $13,000 after only three victims filed for restitution. According to a lawyer representing some of the victims with lawsuits against the Jensens, none will actually receive the money due to the farm’s bankruptcy.
The brothers also faced serving jail time, but were ordered in January to six months of home detention.