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If you contact a company to complain about a product – one that was so bad you had to throw it away, so bad it sickened you, or so bad you swore never to buy it again – what are you likely to receive for your troubles?

A coupon. For the very same product you thought was so awful that you just had to let the company know.

For many of the hundreds of people who became ill after eating at Chipotle restaurants last year, coupons for more Chipotle were probably the last thing they wanted.

Except for one victim. Coupons – for the very stuff that sent her to the hospital – were exactly what she craved.

Just hold the E. coli this time, please.

That word comes from an attorney for nearly 100 Chipotle customers who sued the chain after several separate outbreaks of E. coli, norovirus and salmonella last year.

Chipotle announced last week that it had reached financial settlements with most of the sickened customers who sued the company. And in a welcome public relations win for the once-popular, now-struggling restaurant chain, one litigant is such a Chipotle fan that – despite her hospitalization from a tainted Chipotle meal – she asked for coupons as part of her settlement.

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“She said ‘the one thing I want is free burritos.’ And I’m like, what?” attorney William Marler told the Denver Post, the newspaper in Chipotle’s hometown. “She wanted me to ask for her because she said, ‘I really love Chipotle and want to go back.'”

Chipotle happily complied, providing a “generous number” of coupons to Marler’s 19-year-old client. “I think she was more happy with that than the settlement,” Marler said. “In 25 years of doing foodborne illness cases, I’ve never had a client ask for coupons for the restaurant they had gotten sick at.”

Chipotle has been handing out plenty of coupons lately, to help lure wary customers back. Earlier this year, it gave away more than 5 million mobile coupons for free burritos, then followed that up by mailing out 21 million more paper coupons.

If you wanted a free burrito at Chipotle this year, it certainly wasn’t hard to get one.

And if you want more, all you have to do is identify, and befriend, Marler’s unnamed client. Not only does she have an undisclosed sum of money for her troubles, but she has Chipotle coupons to spare.

Marler could only express bewilderment at Chipotle fans who are so loyal, that they’re dying to return – even though they could have died from going there in the first place. “It’s a little odd, but it probably says something positive about Chipotle,” he said.

And right about now, a little positive news about Chipotle is precisely what the troubled chain needs.

Photo by peanutian

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