Friendly's faces pro at illness lawsuits

It didn't take lawyers long to swoop in on Friendly's after a case of hepatitis A at the restaurant chain's Arlington restaurant.

Lawyers who are expert in food-borne illness cases filed a class-action lawsuit Friday against Friendly's in Middlesex Superior Court on behalf of plaintiff Frederick C. Foster and potentially thousands of others who needed to get immune-globulin shots after a worker at the Friendly's came down with hepatitis A.

The suit claims those who were potentially exposed have suffered damages including lost wages while waiting in line for shots, medical-related expenses and emotional distress.

There have been no reports of additional hepatitis A cases related to the Friendly's case beyond the one worker diagnosed.

William Marler, a Seattle lawyer representing Foster, isn't shy about taking on food companies and restaurant chains in cases of food-borne illness. His firm, Marler Clark, represented families in the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant E. coli litigation. He reportedly won an $11 million settlement with Natick-based BJ's Wholesale Club and a meat supplier for an 8-year-old girl who nearly died after eating E. coli-tainted beef.

Marler's taken on numerous chains over hepatitis A exposure cases, including D'Angelo's Sandwich Shop, which had an outbreak in Swansea in 2001. More than 1,300 people reportedly got $200 settlements for potential exposure.

"I've taken food companies for well over $100 million in the last 10 years," he said. "We do what we do for a lot of reasons - to make money and also to try to change people's behavior. We've been successful at getting the meat industry to do the right thing in E. coli cases.''

The Foster suit claims Wilbraham-based Friendly's owed it to patrons to serve food that was fit for human consumption and to properly supervise, train and monitor employees involved with food preparation.

A Friendly's representative could not be reached for comment.