Lawsuit Filed Against Subway in Hepatitis Outbreak

SEATTLE (AP) -- Two Subway sandwich outlets have been sued over a Hepatitis A outbreak that sickened at least 31 King County residents.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on Wednesday on behalf of Anita Schuerhoff, who has been unable to work for several weeks because of the virus, her lawyers said in a statement.

Hepatitis A--a serious liver infection--causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and fever in the early stages.

On Sept. 19, Schuerhoff ate a sandwich from the Subway Sandwich and Salad outlet at 18002 15th N.E. in Shoreline--one of two Subway outlets implicated in the investigation by Seattle-King County Public Health Department. The other is at 12354 15th N.E. in Seattle.

The lawsuit names as defendants the two locally owned and operated franchisees. It seeks compensation for time missed from work, medical and other costs incurred as a result of the infection, said Andy Weisbecker, a partner at the Marler Clark law firm, which is representing Schuerhoff. Jerry Swafford, director of Subway franchise operations for the Northwest, said Friday he had not seen the lawsuit. "Subway's policy is that everybody washes their hands and uses gloves, but according to the accusations, that didn't happen on this occasion," he said. It's not the first Hepatitis A outbreak in which a Subway outlet in Washington has been implicated.

In 1996, a smaller group of customers were infected at a Seattle outlet--not one of those involved in the current outbreak. But the virus "was detected early enough (for them) to get the shots they needed," Subway spokeswoman Michele Klotzer said from the company's corporate offices in Milford, Conn.

No legal action was taken, she said. Preventive treatment is only effective when administered within 14 days of exposure to the virus, though the infection can be prevented by vaccination prior to exposure. The number of victims in the current outbreak may increase because the incubation period is two to six weeks, and because of the substantial risk of person-to-person exposure, the health department said.

"We'll try to work with our franchisees the best we can to help them through this," Klotzer said, adding all franchises had been contacted "as a reminder of ... proper sanitation and food handling practices." The health department said last week the two outlets no longer pose a threat, and that no other Subway outlets had been implicated.