Monthly Archives: January 2007

Lawsuit Filed Following Outbreak

Attorneys file lawsuit against Arby’s and others in Salmonella outbreak in Georgia

by Kelli Hernandez, The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA, GEORGIA — The first of approximately a dozen lawsuits was filed in state court this week against Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc. and Arby’s LLC, following a Salmonella outbreak in Lowndes County in August.

Also named as defendants in the suit are Beavers Inc., and Birg Inc., which own the franchise, Globe Food Equipment, which supplied the faulty meat slicer which was later discovered to be the source of the bacteria; AFA Service Corporation, the marketing and advertising leader for Arby’s; ARCOP Inc.; and one unknown person, who supplied meat products to the restaurant; Farmer Brown’s Produce Inc., which supplied produce for the restaurant and four other unknown persons.

The suit was filed on behalf of 42-year-old Frances Parks, who was hospitalized on Aug. 28 with salmonella poisoning, which led to a bacterimia infection in the bloodstream, two days after she had eaten at the restaurant.

Parks, who works the 11 p.m.-7a.m. shift as a nurse in Nashville, stopped by the newly opened Arby’s on her way to work Aug. 25 and ordered a regular roast beef sandwich. She returned the next day and ordered four roast beef sandwiches, taking advantage of a special sale. As she was returning home from work on Aug. 28, Parks recalls feeling like she was coming down with a “bug.”

Symptoms began with an achy feeling followed by nausea and chills. Soon, Parks’ temperature rose to 101 degrees and she began vomiting, accompanied by diarrhea.

“The pain was indescribable,” Parks said. “My body literally ached from by toes to my head. I couldn’t stand to even be touched, and I stayed like that for a good 12 to 18 hours.”

Once Parks realized she was not experiencing any ordinary sickness, she called her husband home from work and the two left for the emergency room as her temperature rose to 104.4 degrees.

“Being a nurse, I knew this was wrong and it wasn’t just a typical little bug I picked up from somewhere,” Parks said.

Twenty-four hours after being admitted to the hospital, Parks learned that what she thought was just a minor illness turned out to be Salmonella poisoning, which led to a five-day hospital stay.

Parks went through three IV treatments in eight hours. The vomiting and diarrhea continued and worsened. After 48 hours, Parks was finally allowed to eat, but still could not eat any solid food for the next three weeks. Though she had no available vacation time, Parks was forced to take three weeks off of work.

“I had to be fever and diarrhea-free for a full 24 hours before I could return to work, and that did not occur for three weeks,” Parks explained. “My digestive system is still messed up, and I definitely do not want to eat at any fast food restaurants now.”

The Salmonella poisoning weakened Parks’ digestive system and digestive tract while the infection in her blood weakened her immune system. The process of rebuilding a digestive system after Salmonella poisoning can take up to six months, according to Parks.

Fortunately, Parks had family to help. Her husband took time off of work to stay with her in the hospital and her mother came up from Florida to help care for their 8-year-old child.

“It was horrible,” Parks said. “I wouldn’t wish that stuff on my worst enemy. It was like I thought I would just rather die than go through that stuff.”

The combination of weeks off of work, towering hospital bills, months of sickness and the lack of anyone taking responsibility led Parks to contact an attorney.

“The biggest thing was I couldn’t believe how sick I was,” Parks said. “And it blows my mind they never put any word out.”

Attorneys C. Andrew Childers of Atlanta and Eric H. Weinberg of New Brunswick, New Jersey, are representing Parks and others affected by the outbreak.

“Some folks who have come to ask for representation have done so because of the response they received from Arby’s. One was offered $500 to settle the case,” Childers said. “She has medical bills similar to Ms. Parks and she is still in the hospital suffering.”

Childers stated that a class action suit was not filed because each case has unique circumstances and will require unique compensation.

“Everybody’s damages are different and they are all unique in some way,” Childers explained. “It is in the better interest of each of our clients to represent them individually. Class action suits do not typically compensate victims as well as someone filing their own lawsuit. It is very individual and specific to what she (Parks) suffered instead of treating everyone the same across the board.”

Childers also stated that he hopes individual lawsuits, as opposed to a class action suit, will push the defendants to resolve the case quickly.

Parks is suing the defendants for negligence, nuisance, liability and a violation of Georgia Code 51-1-23, which states, “any person or entity who knowingly or negligently sells unwholesome provisions of any kind to another person, the defect being unknown to the purchaser, by use of which damage results to the purchaser or his family, shall be liable in damages for such injury.”

The complaint states that the franchise owners, Arby’s and the managers of the franchise breached their duty by failing to properly inspect their food-making process and by serving defective products in the form of food which was unfit for human consumption. The complaint went on to state that Parks could not be expected to discover the contamination with exercise of ordinary care until after her injury already occurred.

The injuries and damages Parks received entitle her to monetary damages and compensatory damages, for actual damages and pain and suffering for which the defendants are strictly liable, according to the complaint.

After receiving word of an increase in the number of salmonella cases, the Georgia Public Health Lab contacted the Notifiable Diseases Epidemiology Section. On average, less than five Salmonella cases are reported in Lowndes County each year. Between Aug. 21 and Nov. 15, 72 case patients were identified as having the outbreak strain, according to a report released by the Department of Human Resources.

An immediate investigation began, and on Oct. 6, the South Georgia Health District was notified by investigators that Arby’s Restaurant might be a possible source of the outbreak after interviewing more than 50 case patients. On Oct. 19, swabs were taken from the restaurant for testing and on Oct. 25, two swabs taken from a brand new meat slicer tested positive for Salmonella, according to the report.

The contaminated piece of equipment was immediately sanitized, but continued to test positive for the outbreak strain. It was soon discovered that a piece of plastic attached to a handle on the slicer was not properly sealed with silicon before being released by the manufacturer causing the equipment to remain contaminated even after thorough cleaning, according to the report.

The use of the slicer was immediately discontinued on Oct. 25 along with any food items that may have been in contact with the piece of equipment and no cases of Salmonella were reported after that time, according to the report.

Globe Food Company knew or should have known that the meat slicer, in its condition at the time of sale, was a dangerously defective product that posed an unacceptable risk, according to the complaint. In addition, no entity notified the public of the possibility of contamination and the risk associated with that possibility.

“The slicer was in place until Oct. 24,” Childers said. “Arby’s continued using the contaminated slicer for two months with people getting infected the whole time, and they never even warned people that they might get sick from eating at the restaurant.”

Each of the defendants have 30 days from the day served with the complaint to respond before the discovery phase begins. The discovery phase generally takes about six months, according to Childers.

For more information about Salmonella food poisoning, visit the pages of this blog and the website www.foodpoisoning.com.

January 17, 2007: Arby’s Sued in Salmonella Food Poisoning Outbreak in Valdosta, Georgia

Arby’s Lawsuit News, Valdosta, Georgia – Attorneys Eric H. Weinberg, of New Brunswick, New Jersey, and C. Andrew Childers, of Atlanta, Georgia, filed the first lawsuit today against Arby’s restaurant on behalf of a woman who was sickened after eating at the fast food chain known for its roast beef sandwiches. Weinberg and Childers are preparing about a dozen additional suits to be filed in the immediate future.

According to the attorneys, their clients experienced severe gastrointestinal injuries after eating at an Arby’s located in Valdosta, Georgia. Medical tests showed that each of them had been infected by Salmonella.

The Division of Public Health of the Georgia Department of Human Resources has identified a total of 72 individuals, all of whom were affected by the same strain of Salmonella serotype Montevideo. The outbreak appears to have lasted from August 21, 2006, through November 16, 2006.

The Division of Public Health also noted that a meat slicer and a sample of roast beef from the Arby’s restaurant tested positive for Salmonella.

“The slicer was in place until October 24,” Mr. Childers said. “Arby’s continued using the contaminated slicer for two months with people getting infected the whole time, and they never even warned people that they may get sick from eating at the restaurant.”

Seventy of the 72 individuals identified by the Georgia health department in the outbreak are Georgia residents. A number of these individuals contacted Mr. Weinberg through his Web site, www.foodpoisoning.com

“I’m pleased that we can help people who have been the victims of a food poisoning outbreak,” Mr. Weinberg said. “That’s why we created the Web site and why we are trying to reach as many people who have been affected as possible.”

Arby’s Lawsuit Help

For more information about Salmonella food poisoning, visit the pages of this blog and the website www.foodpoisoning.com.

The NJ Personal Injury Law Firm of Eric H. Weinberg currently represents victims of Salmonella food poisoning from the recent Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Veggie Booty, and Pars Cove outbreaks. If you believe that you are the victim of Salmonella food poisoning, please contact us at our toll free number 1-877-934-6274.

Please see Pulmonary Embolism Lawsuit and Talcum Powder Cancer Lawsuit to learn more about our legal services.

72 Cases of Salmonella Infection Found in Lowndes County

by Kelli Hernandez, The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA, GEORGIA — On Sept. 13, Bob Manning from the Georgia Public Health Laboratory (GPHL) contacted the Notifiable Diseases Epidemiology Section (NDES) of the South Georgia Health District (SGHD) that the lab had received eight Salmonella Montevideo isolates from South Georgia Medical Center between Aug. 28 to Sept. 5, according to a report filed by the Department of Human Resources Division of Public Health.

On average, Lowndes County reports approximately five cases per year of Salmonella Montevideo infection. Due to the drastic increase in cases, an investigation was initiated to determine whether or not the cases represented an outbreak in the area and if a common source could be identified amongst the patients, according to the report.

A questionnaire was developed to evaluate sources of possible exposure including animal contact, water sources, grocery stores, restaurants and specific food, according to the report.

Following the investigation and interviewing patients infected, 72 cases of Salmonella Montevideo infections with indistinguishable patterns were reported with the onset of gastrointestinal illness between Aug. 21 and Nov. 15, and investigators were able to determine the outbreak strain, according to the report.

Of the 72 cases, 19 patients were hospitalized and no deaths were reported, according to the report.

Following interviews of 52 of the 72 patients, the investigation revealed that a common fast food restaurant in Valdosta was the source of the outbreak strain. Of those interviewed, 82 percent reported that they had most likely eaten at the restaurant in the seven days before symptoms began, and the risk of being infected rose 1.5 times for those who had eaten at the restaurant.

On Oct. 6, Tad Williams, Environmental Health director for the South Georgia Health District, was notified by investigators that the fast food restaurant Arby’s was considered a possible source for the outbreak. Leslie Golden, Lowndes County Environmental Health specialist, inspected the restaurant and found no major violations as investigators continued interviews with patients, according to the report.

Interviews continued to point toward the common restaurant as the source. On Oct. 19, Williams, along with Outbreak Coordinator for NDES Cindy Burnett, Dr. Petra Wiersma with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Andy Johnson and Leslie Golden of the Lowndes County Environmental Health Department met with the district manager and manager at the restaurant. The meeting included discussions regarding sources of food served, food preparation, cleaning of equipment and employee health and hygiene, according to the report.

During that visit, 10 swab samples were taken from surfaces in the restaurant and delivered to GPHL and tested for Salmonella.

Normally, the decision to release information to the public concerning an outbreak is decided after collaboration between the state and local health director, according to Public Health liaison Courtney Sheeley.

“Typically what we like to do is complete the investigation in its entirety,” Sheeley said. “If you release information in the middle of the investigation it may or may not be accurate, and at that time, we didn’t have a confirmed source.”

Sheeley added that though the particular restaurant had been identified as a possible common source Oct. 6, that report did not point to a specific piece of equipment, which necessitated the continuation of the investigation.

“Initially it looked like a waterborne outbreak,” Williams said.
Williams added that if investigators could not isolate the equipment or area contaminated after the restaurant been identified as the source of the outbreak, the facility would have been closed. However, since the slicer was later identified as the source and it could be isolated and removed, the facility was not closed and the information was not publicized.
Investigators found that the restaurant had been closed for remodeling and reopened on Aug. 18, 2006, and was utilizing a brand new meat slicer following the reopening. Nineteen days after the restaurant was identified as the possible source of the outbreak, on Oct. 25, GPHL reported that one of the swab samples collected from the new meat slicer was positive for the Salmonella outbreak strain and the slicer was immediately removed from service. All food items that may have been in contact with the slicer were thrown away and additional food items were collected for testing, according to the report.

Thirty-one additional samples were taken from the restaurant that same day. Though the new slicer had been cleaned and sanitized, Salmonella was still detected on the blade cover.
According to restaurant staff, the equipment was cleaned several times a day and was disassembled and sanitized each night. The cause of the problem was determined to be a faulty piece on the equipment, which according to the manufacturer, should have been sealed with silicone. The piece was not sealed as it should have been when it was inspected by investigators, according to the report.

The report’s discussion concluded that though the initial cause of the Salmonella was not discovered, Salmonella persisted between the blade cover and handle due to lack of a seal in spite of frequent cleaning just after the restaurant reopened.

“Once we get the information from the state that identifies a common source, at that point we would go to the common source,” Williams said. “Once we were there we, along with state folks, collected samples. As soon as they confirmed that the problem was with the slicer, we immediately removed the slicer out of service as well as any food that had been sliced on that particular slicer and no other areas in the facility was contaminated.”

Control measures taken by the SGHD included removal of the slicer and the discarding of all potentially contaminated foods. The restaurant returned the slicer to the manufacturer, who has issued a lookout to other restaurants with the same product to inspect the handle. The restaurant chain is also conducting an internal investigation into the possible source of Salmonella contamination of the blade cover, according to the report.

No exposure to the outbreak strain was identified after the slicer was removed from the restaurant Oct. 25, according to the report.

Typically, people infected with Salmonella will experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. The illness normally lasts four to seven days and most patients recover without treatment, though elderly and infants can experience severe illness, according to the report.

This outbreak could also have included some person-to-person exposure, which Sheeley added could be controlled if patients continued to practice good hand washing techniques and washed their hands frequently.

For more information about Salmonella food poisoning, please see About Salmonella or Salmonella Symptoms and Complications.  You may also wish to visit our website foodpoisoning.com. To learn more about the law firm of Eric Weinberg please click on food poisoning lawyer.

For information regarding recent food poisoning outbreaks and recalls, please see Salmonella Minnesota, Salmonella Milford Valley Farms, Salmonella Attorney, and Michigan E. coli Outbreak.

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