Ga. man part of $12 million peanut butter settlement

A Georgia man who nearly died after eating peanut butter crackers infected with salmonella will receive part of a $12 million settlement approved by a federal judge.

Claude Ivester's fever stayed at 105 degrees for four days and he spent eight days in an Athens hospital, his wife told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday from the couple's Elbert County home.

"He was terribly, terribly sick," Barbara Ivester said.

The 75-year-old still tires easily, but he's back on his feet. He says he'll never touch peanut butter again and the recent salmonella outbreak linked to eggs has him avoiding those, too.

The peanut butter was traced to plants owned by Lynchburg-based Peanut Corp. of America in Blakely, Ga., and Plainview, Texas. Products from the two plants were eventually linked to nine deaths and about 700 illnesses.

Houston attorney Ron Simon represented 122 of those sickened, including Ivester, in a class action lawsuit. The exact settlement amounts remain confidential pending a bankruptcy judge's approval, Simon told the AJC. But the settlements are tied to the severity of the victims' sickness, including the medical bills related to the outbreak.

"Mr. Ivester's illness was one of the most serious in the entire outbreak," Simon said Thursday afternoon.

The settlements from the insurance money range from $2 million for a West Virginia man and nearly $1 million to the estate of an Alabama woman, to less than $50,000 for some children, according to the Associated Press. Most of the other claims are for less than $100,000.

"All of these families have mounting medical bills and this happened right at the heat of the economy tanking," Simon said. "This is going to give them a chance to pay those bills and move on and get closure on what was a very, very traumatic part of their lives."

The outbreak led to the shutdown of the Blakely plant, eliminating 50 jobs in the southwest Georgia town. The Peanut Corp. later filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Under the brand names Parnell's Pride and King Nut, Peanut Corp. produced not only peanut butter, but peanut paste, an ingredient found in foods from granola bars and dog biscuits to ice cream and cake. More than 3,490 products were recalled, including millions of Kellogg's Austin and Keebler peanut butter sandwich crackers.

Additional undisclosed settlement funds are being paid by Kellogg, Simon said.

Wednesday's recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Urbanski follows a nearly five-hour hearing last week where the judge questioned three lawyers representing the families and children, trustees in the bankruptcy case and a lawyer for Kellogg.