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Food Litigation Lawyer Bill Marler Is Careful about What He Eats

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Seattle, WAThere is a document clerk who works three days a week in attorney Bill Marler's busy law office in Seattle, Washington. She is in her early twenties now, but she still has health problems because of something that happened when she was just nine years old.

She was one of the most seriously injured children who consumed E.coli tainted hamburger patties at a Seattle Jack in the Box restaurant in 1993. Her name is Brianne Kiner, and she was one of Marler's first foodborne illness clients.

He is proud to have Brianne on his team. "She still has some remaining problems, but yes, it is pretty cool to have her here."

Since the Jack in the Box lawsuits, Marler has become a passionate advocate and litigator on behalf of children harmed by contaminated food products. "When I got out of law school, I never envisioned that I would be doing food cases solely but that is what I do. Most of my clients are 10-years-old or younger."

A few years ago, Marler started a non-profit company called Outbreak. "I have been very successful and this is how I try to give back." He spends up to 50 percent cent of his time traveling and speaking to food manufacturing companies around the world.

"I tell them why it is a bad idea for companies to poison people, and why it is not to their benefit to have kids in intensive care units," says Marler. Sometimes he is invited to speak to companies he has sued, or he is in the process of suing.

Food manufacturing companies are under incredible pressure to keep costs low, according to Marler. "Regrettably, they often lose sight of the importance of selling safe food."

Marler points to the story of the Topps Meat Company as an example. For years, it was a family owned and operated business with an unblemished record of quality products. Then it was sold to a group of investors. Last year Topps had to recall 25 million pounds of prepackaged patties in the second largest ever recall of E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated hamburger.

Pressure from big box stores to deliver products at the lowest possible price, plus shareholders howling for good returns on their investment proved poisonous for Topps and its customers. "Dozens and dozens of people across the US became ill and the company went bankrupt!" says Marler.

"It is only companies that don't stay focused on food safety, that I get repeat business from."

There is a new and less well-known concern about raw milk that Marler's firm is now dealing with. "Over the last five years, we are seeing more bacterial contamination cases connected to raw milk. People are turning away from standard food," says Marler. "They are turning to more raw foods or unprocessed foods."

Raw milk was once a leading cause of tuberculosis in the US. There is a reason, observes Marler, that Louis Pasteur's legendary process of removing pathogens from milk and milk products became standard procedure.

"Right now, there are four children in a Hartford, Connecticut hospital with acute kidney failure related to raw milk," says Marler. He has several raw milk cases in litigation, including two in California and one in Missouri against raw milk diary companies.

Marler has handled hundreds of potentially deadly foodborne illness cases involving everything from listeria to salmonella and E. coli. He has seen people paralyzed, condemned to dialysis machines for the rest of their lives and even die from consuming tainted food.

When it comes to Marler's personal food choices, he is very selective about what he eats. "I don't go to salad bars, I don't eat cold cuts and I refuse to eat hamburger of any kind. My kids don't eat hamburger either."

Bill Marler is one of the best known foodborne illness lawyers in the US. He has a J.D. from the Seattle University School of Law(1987) and a B.A. in Political Science, Economics and English from Washington State University (1982). In 2008 he received a Public Justice Award from the Washington State Trial Lawyer's Association and an Outstanding Lawyer Award from the Seattle/King County Bar Association.

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