Cobb lawsuit filed over salmonella

It's been a rough year for Cindy Horney.

Ten days of fever, nausea and diarrhea were only the beginning. The case of salmonella food poisoning, she said, triggered a case of Reiter syndrome, an uncommon form of arthritis. Intense pain in her hips made it hard to walk and sleep.

Cindy Horney is one of seven people who filed suit against Golden Corral restaurants after becoming ill last year.

"For four or five months, I had to sleep upright in a La-Z-Boy," said Horney.

The Marietta mother of four is one of at least 23 people stricken last year in an outbreak of salmonellosis linked to the Golden Corral buffet restaurant on Barrett Parkway in Kennesaw. The Georgia Division of Public Health a year ago today announced that from early June through late August 2003, a total of 23 people were infected with the bacteria salmonella berta. Of those 23 confirmed cases, 18 had links to the Golden Corral just west of Town Center mall.

Horney is one of seven people to have filed suit against the restaurant in Cobb County State Court.

"This is something bigger than being sick for 10 days," said Horney, 43, who works as a chef for the private school at Noonday Baptist Church in Marietta. Restaurant managers need to do a better job of educating food service workers about the hazards of food poisoning, she added. "Those paid the least should be educated the most," said Horney.

Horney and the six others are represented by Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food contamination personal injury cases, and William Lanham of the Atlanta firm Johnson & Ward. The two attorneys, who would not say how much they're seeking for the plaintiffs, represented several Georgia families who sued White Water park after an E. coli outbreak in 1998.

Lanham said the plaintiffs hope to settle the cases through mediation as early as October. "Litigation is expensive, and if you can resolve these things without going through the court system it's better for everyone involved," he said. Marler recently settled a case in which victims of a 2002 salmonella outbreak linked to a Michigan bakery collected $3,000 to $80,000 each.

Adam Appel, the attorney representing Charles Winston, owner of 12 Golden Corral restaurants in metro Atlanta, declined to comment Thursday on the case.

Horney said her family had lunch at the Golden Corral after church on Aug. 17, 2003. She became ill the next day.

The restaurant was closed for several days in September 2003 while state health officials searched for a source of contamination. Equipment and surfaces were thoroughly scrubbed and sanitized. Bacteria later were found in a floor drain. Health officials said the bacteria may have been on a piece of equipment that was washed during the recent extensive cleaning, and that water ended up flowing into the floor drain.

In health inspections in the two years before the incident, the restaurant received scores of 98 and higher. In its last inspection in May, the restaurant received a perfect score of 100.

Dewey and Mary Lecroy of Marietta ate lunch at the Golden Corral the day it reopened last September. The couple still visits there two or three times a week. "They've got good food and they've got a good pick of everything," Dewey Lecroy said.

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