In January 1993, the Washington State Department of Health launched an investigation into an uncommonly high incidence of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) among Seattle-area children. It traced the source of their illnesses back to E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that had contaminated hamburger patties sold at area Jack in the Box restaurants. In the following weeks, Idaho, California and Nevada reported numerous cases of E. coli infection among residents that had eaten at Jack in the Box restaurants. The scope of the outbreak widened.
Ultimately, 73 different Jack in the Box locations were linked to the E. coli outbreak. The bacteria sickened over 700 people in four states (602 of them from Washington) and led to 171 hospitalizations and 4 deaths. The investigation into the outbreak eventually identified five slaughterhouses in the United States and one in Canada as possible sources of the bacteria, but the exact source of the contaminated meat, produced by the Von Corporation of California, was never pinpointed. Further investigation revealed that Foodmaker, Inc., parent company of Jack in the Box, had been warned by local health departments and its own employees that its hamburgers were being undercooked, but had decided that cooking them to the required 155 degrees made them too tough.
Brianne Kiner, nine years old at the time, suffered one of the worst of the illnesses resulting from this culinary choice. Brianne was admitted to Seattle’s Children’s hospital days after eating a hamburger from a Redmond, WA Jack in the Box. She developed HUS, which caused her to become puffy and jaundiced. She began to bleed from every orifice in her body and required months if dialysis.
Brianne would eventually slip into a coma, during which doctors removed her large intestine and hooked her heart, lungs, and kidneys up to machines to keep them functioning. Though expected to die, Brianne eventually emerged from the coma, and began the slow process of recovery, to the extent she would be able to recover. Many effects of her infection were permanent, including diabetes, asthma, brain damage and future kidney problems that will eventually lead to the need for a transplant.
William Marler represented Brianne in a claim against Jack in the Box and Foodmaker, and obtained a $15.6 million settlement on her behalf, in addition to successfully resolving cases on behalf of dozens of other victims of the outbreak.
An accomplished attorney and national expert in food safety, William (Bill) Marler has become the most prominent foodborne illness lawyer in America and a major force in food policy in the U.S. and around the world. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, has represented thousands of individuals in claims against food companies whose contaminated products have caused life altering injury and even death.
Bill began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the historic Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, in her landmark $15.6 million settlement with the company. The 2011 book, Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat, by best-selling author Jeff Benedict, chronicles the Jack in the Box outbreak and the rise of Bill Marler as a food safety attorney.
For the last 20 years, Bill has represented victims of nearly every large foodborne illness outbreak in the United States, filing lawsuits against such companies as Cargill, Chili’s, Chi-Chi’s, Chipotle, ConAgra, Dole, Excel, Golden Corral, KFC, McDonald’s, Odwalla, Peanut Corporation of America, Sheetz, Sizzler, Supervalu, Taco Bell and Wendy’s. Through his work, he has secured over $600,000,000 for victims of E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Botulism and other foodborne illnesses.
Among the most notable cases he has litigated, Bill counts those of nineteen-year-old dancer Stephanie Smith, who was sickened by an E. coli-contaminated hamburger that left her brain damaged and paralyzed, and Linda Rivera, a fifty-seven-year-old mother of six from Nevada, who was hospitalized for over 2 years after she was stricken with what her doctor described as “the most severe multi-organ [bowel, kidney, brain, lung, gall bladder, and pancreas] case of E. coli mediated HUS I have seen in my extensive experience.”
New York Times reporter Michael Moss won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Smith’s case, which was settled by Cargill in 2010 for an amount “to care for her throughout her life.” Linda’s story hit the front page of the Washington Post and became Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s touchstone for successfully moving forward the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2010.
Bill Marler’s advocacy for a safer food supply includes petitioning the United States Department of Agriculture to better regulate pathogenic E. coli, working with nonprofit food safety and foodborne illness victims’ organizations, and helping spur the passage of the 2010-2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. His work has led to invitations to address local, national, and international gatherings on food safety, including testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce.
At little or no cost to event organizers, Bill travels widely and frequently to speak to food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about the litigation of claims resulting from outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria and viruses and the issues surrounding it. He gives frequent donations to industry groups for the promotion of improved food safety, and has established numerous collegiate science scholarships across the nation.
He is a frequent writer on topics related to foodborne illness. Bill’s articles include “Separating the Chaff from the Wheat: How to Determine the Strength of a Foodborne Illness Claim”, “Food Claims and Litigation”, “How to Keep Your Focus on Food Safety”, and “How to Document a Food Poisoning Case” (co-authored with David Babcock). He is the publisher of the online news site, Food Safety News and his award-winning blog, www.marlerblog.com is avidly read by the food safety and legal communities. He is a frequent media guest on food safety issues and has been profiled in numerous publications, including the ABC News, New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal.
In 2010 Bill was awarded the NSF Food Safety Leadership Award for Education and in 2008 earned the Outstanding Lawyer Award by the King County Bar Association. He also received the Public Justice Award from the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.
Bill graduated from the Seattle University School of Law in 1987, and in 1998 was the Law School’s “Lawyer in Residence.” In 2011, he was given Seattle University’s Professional Achievement Award.
1987 – J.D. Seattle University School of Law
1982 – B.A.s Political Science, Economics, English, Washington State University
2013 – Seattle University Distinguished Law Graduate Award
2011- Seattle University Professional Achievement Award
2011 to Present – ABA Journal “Blawg 100” Best Legal Blogs
2010 – NSF Food Safety Leadership Award: Innovation in Education
2009 to Present – Best Lawyers in America
2002 to Present – Bar Register of Preeminent Attorneys
2008 – Public Justice Award, Washington State Trial Lawyer’s Association
2008 – Outstanding Lawyer Award, Seattle/King County Bar Association
1998 to Present – “Super Lawyer”, Washington State Attorneys
1998 – 2004 Governor Appointee, Washington State University Board of Regents Chairman
1997 – Distinguished Achievement Award, WSU College of Liberal Arts
Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat, By Jeff Benedict
2017 – Seattle Litigator Bill Marler Follows the Food Chain Bloomberg News Cases and Controversies Podcast, Steven Sellers, December 18
2017 – Meet The Attorney Behind The Biggest Food Safety Cases, KNKX, Gabriel Spitzer & Kevin Kniestedt, September 30
2017 – This Food Poisoning Expert Revealed The 6 Things He Refuses To Eat HealthyWay, R.J.Wilson, May 18
2016 – How one Attorney Is Trying to Make Food Safer Civil Beat News, Rui Kaneya, August 22
2016 – This genius lawyer is our best hope against deadly food poisoningMother Jones, Kiera Butler, May 20
2016 – 7 Things We Learned About Food Safety Oversight From A Foodborne Illness Expert Consumerist, Ashlee Kieler, February 2
2015 – Profile in Obsession: Bill Marler, Naomi Tomky, March 24
2015 – The New Yorker – A Bug in the System The New Yorker, Wil S. Hylton, February 2
2014 – Q&A: Food Safety Lawyer Bill Marler on What Not to Eat The National Law Journal, Jenna Greene, November 3
2012 – Bill Marler, Attorney, Blogger, and Food Safety Advocate, Talks Turkey (Or Spinach, Rather) Miami New Times, Ily Goyanes, November 2
2012 – Bill Marler Interview, Part Two: His Most Difficult Cases and Lobbying Congress Miami New Times, Ily Goyanes, November 14
2012 – Profiles in Public Health Law: Interview with William “Bill” Marler CDC Public Health Law News, July
2012 – Food Safety Lawyer Bill Marler On Sprouts, Raw Milk, and Why “Local” Isn’t Always Safer Blisstree.com, Hanna Brooks Olsen, March 5
2011 – Listeria outbreak draws Seattle lawyer to battle Associated Press, Shannon Dininny, October 9
2011 – Food-Borne Illness Attorney: Top Foods to Avoid ABC News, Neal Karlinsky, September 29
2011 – How to Keep Food Free of Salmonella: Lawsuits The Atlantic, Barry Estabrook, August 31
2011 – More Stomach-Churning Facts about the E. Coli Outbreak New York Times, Mark Bittman, June 8
2011 – Bill Marler: A Personal Injury Attorney and More The Xemplar, Nicole Black, June 1
2011 – Good Food Hero: Bill Marler, Food Safety Attorney Good Food World, Gail Nickel-Kailing, May 23
2011 – Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat Inspire Books, Jeff Benedict, May 15
2011 – New Book Chronicles Islander Marler’s Work Bainbridge Island Review, Connie Mears, May 13
2010 – Food Safety Lawyer Puts His Money Where Your Mouth Is AOL News, Andrew Schneider, September 29
2009 – Bill Marler: Taking on E.coli, BigAg, Raw Milk, Conspiracy Theorists, and the USDA Simple, Good, and Tasty, Shai Danielson, December 16
2009 – Food Safety Lawyer’s Wish: Put Me Out of Business Seattle Times, Maureen O’Hagan, November 23
2009 – WSU Discourse on Food Safety, Courtesy Seattle Lawyer Kitsap Sun, Tristan Baurick, August 29
2009 – Calling for Real Food Safety Reform: Bill Marler for FSIS Civil Eats, David Murphy, June 24
2009 – When Food Sickens, He Heads for Courthouse Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Matt McKinney, June 24
2009 – Bill Marler, The Food-Safety Litigator Culinate, Miriam Wolf, April
2009 – Food Fight:Bill Marler’s Beef (PDF) Washington Law & Politics, David Volk, May
2009 – Candidate for Top FSIS Job talks E. coli Testing, Irradiation, Education The Meating Place, Ann Bagel Storck, February 6
2009 – Five Minutes with Bill Marler, Well Known Lawyer, Food Safety Activist CattleNetwork, Chuck Jolley, February 5
2009 – Outspoken Food Safety Attorney Wants In The Washington Post, Ed O’Keefe, January 27
2008 – E. Coli Lawyer Is Busier Than Ever Associated Press, February 4
2007 – Legally Speaking: The Food Poisoning Lawyer The Southeast Texas Record, John G. Browning, November 20
2007 – The Nation’s Leading Food-borne Illness Attorney Tells All Washington State Magazine, Hannelore Sudermann, August
2007 – Food Fight Portland Oregonian, Alex Pulaski, March
2006 – How a Tiny Law Firm Made Hay Out of Tainted Spinach The Wall Street Journal, Heather Won Tesoriero and Peter Lattman, September 27
2001 – THE INSIDE STORY: How 11 Schoolkids Got $4.75 Million in E. coli Lawsuit MeatingPlace.com, Bryan Salvage, March 7
2001 – Hammer Time: Preparation Pays When Disputes Escalate to Lawsuits Meat & Poultry Magazine, David Hendee
2001 – For Seattle Attorney, A Bacterium Brings Riches—and Enemies The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Zimmerman
2001 – The Bug That Ate The Burger Los Angeles Times, Emily Green, June
1999 – Courting Publicity, Attorney Makes Safe Food His Business Seattle Post, Maggie Leung, September 7