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