(April 24) A lawsuit on behalf of the three people who died after eating Dole baby spinach tainted with E. coli was settled during the last week of March.

Seattle-based attorney Bill Marler said he represented the families of Ruby Trautz, 81, of Bellevue, Neb., Betty Howard, 83, of Richland, Wash., and June Dunning, 86, of Hagerstown, Md.

He said the cases were settled on behalf of the families of the three women against three defendants Dole Foods Co. Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Natural Selection Foods LLC, San Juan Bautista, Calif.; and Mission Organics, Salinas, Calif.

“We resolved those over a two-day mediation period with a retired federal judge in San Diego,” he said.

Marler, a personal liability lawyer who has made his reputation suing food companies in foodborne illness cases, said he could not discuss the amount of the settlement and that he still has 90 cases pending.

Marty Ordman, Dole’s vice president of marketing and communications, said he could not comment because of litigation that was still pending.

However, Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Monterey, Calif., has repeatedly said Natural Selection Foods, as the packer — not Dole — was ultimately culpable.

“From a legal perspective, he is wrong,” Marler said. “Dole was one of the defendants, and I don’t know or care which defendant’s insurance company pays.”

Marler said that under the law Dole is a target defendant and strictly liable because they manufactured a product and put it out on the market.

He said even if Dole had a co-packing agreement Natural Selection and, in turn, Natural Selection had a contract with Mission Organics, in the end consumers only see Dole baby spinach as being responsible for the outbreak that sickened over 200 and killed three.

“The reality is Dole is strictly liable to its customers for what happened to them,” he said. “What contractual relationships they may have with other defendants is their issue. My clients look to Dole as the source of resolving these suits.”