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Couple Files Suit In Food Poison Case

Son ate at Redwood City restaurant

REDWOOD CITY --A Redwood City couple filed suit yesterday against a Mexican restaurant where their young son ate an enchilada before he became seriously ill with a 105-degree fever.

Suzie and Hector Lapuyade filed the suit in San Mateo County Superior Court against Viva Mexico restaurant and its owners, Martin and Isabel Toro, according to the Lapuyades' attorneys.

The Middlefield Road restaurant is believed to be responsible for an outbreak of the shigella bacterium, which can cause severe abdominal illnesses and fever. More than 250 people have reported becoming sick, and a Sunnyvale woman died after eating at the restaurant between Oct. 19 and Oct. 21.

Suzie Lapuyade said yesterday that her family ate at Viva Mexico, which is popular with employees of the San Mateo County government center located nearby, about once a week because of its convenience and good food.

When the Lapuyades ate at Viva Mexico on Oct. 21, ``Everything was wonderful'' at first, Suzie Lapuyade said. Nine-year-old Maurice ate a cheese enchilada, while the rest of the family ate chili rellenos and other typical restaurant fare.

But three days later, Maurice suffered from severe stomach pain, dizzy spells and diarrhea, and was taken to the hospital with a 105-degree fever, his mother said. She also became ill.

The suit was filed by Contra Costa County attorney Harry Stern and Marler Clark, a Seattle, Washington, based law firm specializing in cases involving food-borne illness. Marler Clark has filed suit against several of the nation's largest fast-food chains on behalf of people claiming food poisoning.

Attorney Bill Marler said yesterday he suspects that contaminated ingredients in the salsa at Viva Mexico caused the outbreak, ``given the number of people who became sick'' and the commonplace use of salsa.

County health officials are continuing to investigate the cause of the outbreak of shigellosis, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium shigella that has been tentatively blamed for the Oct. 23 death of 53-year-old Constance Williams- Pennel of Sunnyvale. The official cause of her death won't be determined until toxicology texts are completed.

Health inspectors, who closed the restaurant Oct. 24, believe the bacteria may have passed from an employee's unsanitized hands into improperly stored chicken or beans, or may have been present in vegetables used to make salsa.

Suzie Lapuyade said Maurice battled a high fever for four days, while she suffered severe pains for several days. She said her son ``is still not up to par.''

The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for medical expenses and an undetermined damages for pain and suffering.

Viva Mexico owner Isabel Toro declined to comment on the suit yesterday, but said she and her husband plan to reopen the restaurant in three or four days.

Attorneys for Viva Mexico could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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