Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Chili's; Punitive Damages Sought


CHICAGO – A class action lawsuit was filed against Brinker Restaurant Corporation, the owner of the Vernon Hills Chili’s restaurant where hundreds were sickened a year ago as a result of eating contaminated food. The complaint, which was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeks punitive damages on behalf of named plaintiff David Straza, and all other Chili’s outbreak victims who ate food at or from the restaurant between June 23 and June 30, 2003. According to the complaint, “the number of possible class members could easily exceed one-thousand” due to possible underreporting of cases by people who got sick but did not contact the health department or seek medical care.

The class action lawsuit was filed jointly by Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm known nationally for its successful representation of outbreak victims, and Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, the well known and highly respected Plaintiff’s personal injury firm in Chicago. These two law firms represent the largest number of persons injured in the Chili’s outbreak, and have already filed a total of seven lawsuits so far, with several more planned in the coming weeks.

“This is an unusual lawsuit, but this is an unusual case,” said Denis Stearns, the partner at Marler Clark handling the Chili’s outbreak litigation. “Rather than seeking to punish the company for its behavior on a case-by-case basis, in individual lawsuits, this class-action will resolve the punitive damages issue in one lawsuit, on behalf of everyone injured by what is alleged to be Chili’s conscious disregard of the public’s safety.”

The complaint alleges that the “decision to remain open and operate without hot water one day, and without any water the following day, and to achieve sales and profits that would have been lost had the restaurant closed, was an intentional, knowing, likely financially motivated decision that put the public safety at risk, and contributed to and exacerbated the Chili’s Salmonella outbreak.”

“Since the Supreme Court has ruled there is a limit to the amount of punitive damages a company can be forced to pay for bad behavior, a number of federal courts have certified class actions on the basis of there being a limited-fund,” explained Mark Senak, a partner with Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard. “That’s why we filed this lawsuit, so that all the people injured in the outbreak can together hold Chili’s responsible for what it did.”

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BACKGROUND: In addition to the victims of the Chili’s Salmonella outbreak, Stearns and his partners represent over 100 victims of the Chi-Chi’s hepatitis-A outbreak near Pittsburgh. Marler Clark has achieved great success representing victims, mostly children, in large outbreaks across the country over the last ten years. The firm has also obtained record verdicts and settlements on behalf of thousands of people infected with E. coli, Salmonella, hepatitis-A, Listeria, Shigella, and Campylobacter. Total recoveries to date on behalf of such victims exceed $100 million. See the firm-sponsored sites www.about-salmonella.com, www.salmonellalitigation.com, and www.salmonellablog.com.

Salvi Schostok & Pritchard has been successfully serving Illinois for over 22 years. Routinely listed in Chicago Lawyer magazine as one of the top Plaintiff law firms in Illinois, the firm has successfully won 97 separate verdicts or settlements of $1 million or more in personal injury and wrongful death cases totaling over $296 million.

More about the Chili's Salmonella outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.