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Restaurant sued after salmonella outbreak

Grandmom, girl blame Golden Corral for illness

Patricia Guthrie, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

September 19, 2003

A grandmother is suing a Kennesaw restaurant, claiming she and her 4-year-old granddaughter were sickened after eating lunch there last month. The lawsuit was filed the same day the popular establishment reopened after a salmonella food poisoning outbreak.

Bonnie Bartley and Allison B. Luster, 4, of Marietta, claimed they both became extremely ill after eating lunch Aug. 17 at the Golden Corral on Barrett Parkway, according to the lawsuit filed in Cobb County State Court.

Luster, who lives with her maternal grandparents, Bonnie and Virgil Bartley, was taken to WellStar Kennestone Hospital's emergency room Aug. 23 with bloody stools, constant vomiting and severe stomach pain, court documents say.

She also developed a severe fever and dehydration and lost one-seventh of her body weight, said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food contamination personal injury cases.

"This little girl was really sick, requiring extensive antibiotic treatment and a week in the hospital," Marler said in a telephone interview. "The restaurant should step up and do the right thing, compensating victims for what they've gone through."

Bartley experienced milder symptoms the day after eating at Golden Corral, Marler said, but she did not seek immediate medical attention. The girl is still being monitored for stomach problems, he said.

The lawsuit demands that the restaurant compensate the plaintiffs for medical bills, attorney fees and any other fees the court may deem appropriate.

The establishment is one of a dozen Golden Corrals in the metro area owned by Charles Winston. He voluntarily closed the restaurant Sept. 9 while state health officials scrutinized it for a source of contamination. Equipment and surfaces were once again thoroughly scrubbed and sanitized.

Winston said he hoped the outbreak would not hurt long-term business.

"My guess is, we'll do well," he said. The Kennesaw restaurant, open since 1993, serves about 725,000 meals a year, Winston said.

From early June through late August, 23 people were infected with the bacteria salmonella berta, the Georgia Division of Public Health said last week. Of those 23 confirmed cases, 18 had links to the Golden Corral just west of Town Center mall. Illnesses included mild to severe symptoms, said health officials, who did not name the affected individuals or where they lived. One person with underlying health conditions died.

Previous health inspections Aug. 21 and 22 turned up no trace of the bacteria.

But last week, the bacteria was found in a floor drain. Health officials said the bacteria may have been on a piece of equipment that was washed during the recent extensive cleaning, and that water ended up flowing into the floor drain.

Winston's attorney, Tom Carlock, said he had not seen the lawsuit so he couldn't comment on specific complaints. But he said the restaurant received a "a clean bill of health" from state officials this week. "We got a perfect 100 score recently, and the health department came out here and checked all the employees for salmonella and all were cleared."

Public health division spokesman Richard Quartarone confirmed that state laboratory tests didn't find salmonella in any samples taken from Golden Corral employees.

By 11:45 a.m. Thursday, more than 100 people were at the eatery.

"We've been coming here for a long time. We really like eating here," said Dewey Lecroy of Marietta, who was with his wife, Mary. The couple said they were not concerned about any health risk.

The lunch crowd continued to swell, and by 12:30 p.m. more than two-thirds of the tables were filled with police officers, construction workers, landscaping crews and other hungry diners.

Other patrons of the restaurant who claim they were sickened at the Golden Corral are considering litigation, said Marler, the Seattle attorney. He is being assisted by William Lanham with the downtown Atlanta firm Johnson and Ward.

The two successfully represented several Georgia families who sued White Water park after an E. coli outbreak in 1998.

Marler's out-of-court settlements have ranged from several thousand dollars to $15.6 million against such companies as Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Odwalla juice company and Costco.

-- Staff writer Clint Williams contributed to this article.

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