Final Report: Chili's Salmonella Outbreak Linked to "Poor Judgment"

Question remains whether sales-quota drove manager to keep restaurant open despite lack of water. Lawyers say more lawsuits to come.

VERNON HILLS — The Lake County Health Department issued its final report on the Chili’s Salmonella outbreak yesterday, declaring that “a large number of ill employees at the facility, [and] a general lack of handwashing” sickened hundreds of Chili’s customers when they consumed food contaminated with human feces. In what health officials have called “poor judgment,” the report notes that the decision to open the restaurant despite the lack of hot water one day, and any water the next, contributed to and exacerbated the spread of the salmonella to a greater number of people. The majority of the people made sick were sickened on these two days.

Working together, Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm that has a national reputation for the successful representation of victims of foodborne illness outbreaks, and the well-respected Waukegan firm of Salvi, Schostok and Pritchard, have filed several lawsuits against Brinker Restaurant Corporation, the owner of the Vernon Hills Chili’s that caused the salmonella outbreak, with plans to file several more.

“The Lake County Health Department is to be congratulated for the thoroughness of its investigation,” said Denis Stearns, the Marler Clark partner handling these cases for his firm. “And for the criticism it quite rightly levied against Chili’s management. Why anyone would operate a restaurant for a week with a broken dish-machine, and for two days without an adequate water supply. It simply boggles the mind.”

When health officials initially inspected the Vernon Hills Chili’s, and discovered the broken dish-machine, the managers kept quiet about the lack of water situation. It was only after the health department received a customer complaint about it three days later that Chili’s was finally forced to admit that it had violated the law and put the public’s health additionally at risk by operating without a sufficient or safe water-supply.

“To continue preparing and serving food when employees did not even have the ability to properly wash their hands shows a blatant disregard for customer health,” said David Frankel, the attorney working on these cases for the Salvi law firm. “And it is probably no coincidence that June was the final month of the fiscal year for Chili’s,” added Stearns. “We don’t know if a need to hit sales-figures was a motivating factor in deciding to stay open despite the lack of water, but we certainly intend to find out.”

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 the largest outbreaks across the country over the last ten years. Marler Clark 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.

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