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Hartford awarded $6.1 million verdict in hepatitis case



A federal district court in Virginia awarded a unit of Hartford Financial Services Inc. $6.1 million in damages, preliminary injunctions and attorneys’ fees and costs related to frozen strawberries that led to a 2016 hepatitis outbreak.

The frozen strawberries, used in smoothies served to franchisees by Atlanta-based Tropical Smoothie Cafe, had reportedly been imported from Egypt by Quebec, Canada-based VLM Foods, according to the ruling by the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, in Sentinel Insurance Co. Ltd. v. VLM Foods, et al.

FLM had sold the strawberries to a frozen wholesaler, San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based Patagonia Foods, which then relied on two companies to supply the frozen strawberries to TSC franchises, the ruling said.

In 201

6, more than 200 claims were filed against TSC and various TSC franchises to recover damages for bodily injuries sustained from consuming the contaminated strawberries.

After Patagonia and VLM refused to provide a defense and indemnification, TSC’s insurer, Harford unit Sentinel, incurred $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees and costs to defend TX against the claims and in settlements.

In November 2019, Sentinel filed a lawsuit in district court to recover that amount, plus interest from Patagonia and VLM under various hold harmless agreements.

In two opinions, in October 2021 and May 2022, the district court held that VLM and Patagonia were jointly and severally liable to Sentinel for the $3.5 million it had incurred in defending TSC against the strawberry claims, plus prejudgment interest on the amount and attorneys’ fees and costs Sentinel had contracted to pursue the lawsuit.

Style These rulings dealt with the issues of the fees and costs incurred by Sentinel and Patagonia in the action and the calculation of default interest.

In its decision issued Thursday, the court ruled that in addition to the $3.5 million in damages it had awarded in October 2021, Sentinel should be awarded $1.1 million in prejudgment effective Nov. 1, 2019, $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees and $292,477.89 in costs and expenses incurred in the litigation.

Patagonia was also awarded $246,888.95 against VLM for Patagonia’s attorneys’ fees, with post-judgment interest.

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.


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