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McDonald's Patron Sues After Hepatitis Outbreak


AP Medical Writer

July 21, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) ― An attorney who specializes in food safety filed a lawsuit Tuesday against McDonald's following a hepatitis A outbreak in northwestern Illinois.

The lawsuit was filed in Rock Island County Circuit Court on behalf of Cody Patterson, 33, of Milan. The suit claims a McDonald's in Milan allowed one or more employees to work while infected with the virus and that Patterson ate there during that time.

The complaint seeks class action status for other patrons who ate at the restaurant on certain dates and sought the preventive treatment recommended by county health officials. The suit also names Kevin Murphy, who owns the fast food franchise in Milan, as a defendant.

Patterson said he has receipts for meals at McDonald's with his family on at least two dates when authorities say an infected worker may have contaminated food or beverages.

"If you eat at a restaurant, you should feel safe there," Patterson told The Associated Press. He said he's not interested in monetary damages.

"It's finding out who's at fault and making sure it doesn't happen to others," Patterson said. "That's my biggest thing."

Patterson said he was worried about his family and searching online for hepatitis information when he found a Web site for Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has handled numerous foodborne illness cases. He filled out a form on the site and, when contacted, agreed to take part in the lawsuit.

The suit, which seeks damages of at least $30,000 for Patterson, is a way to compensate people for the time, wage losses and expense of getting preventive treatment, Marler said.

Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp., said health officials haven't confirmed the source of the outbreak.

"In fact, they believe, based on the number of confirmed cases, that most likely there are multiple sources," Proud said in an e-mail. She said commenting further would be inappropriate because "this is a pending legal matter."

Murphy, who operates the Milan McDonald's, has said the restaurant took immediate action once it learned from health officials on July 13 that a food handler had been diagnosed with hepatitis A. Murphy has said that no one who was sick knowingly worked at the restaurant after that notification.

Rock Island County Health Department spokeswoman Theresa Foes said other businesses in Milan were investigated during the outbreak, but no others were closed. The Milan McDonald's was closed for three days last week at the direction of health officials and reopened Saturday.

Foes said 4,000 people were expected to receive treatment at a two-day vaccination clinic organized in response to the outbreak. The clinic held at the local high school ended Tuesday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said 21 confirmed cases of hepatitis A have been linked to Milan.

The hepatitis A virus can cause liver swelling but rarely causes lasting damage. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever and can appear from 15 to 50 days after exposure.

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