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Second lawsuit filed against bakery

Jameson Cook, Macomb Daily Staff Writer

March 20, 2002

A second lawsuit was filed Tuesday against a Clinton Township bakery suspected of making pastries infected with the salmonella bacteria.

Lynn Jones of Clinton Township seeks more than $25,000 for medical and drug costs, lost "enjoyment of life," emotional distress and other expenses due to getting sick from eating cassatta cake at a friend's March 1 birthday party in Clinton Township.

"She's not really back to being herself yet" and is still taking medication, said her attorney, Dave Babcock, a Seattle-based specialist in handling food contamination cases.

Jones is one of 153 people who health officials believe got sick, including 21 who were hospitalized, from eating cannolis or cassatta cake made at Black Forest Cakes & Pastries. About 220 people ate the products.

Those afflicted suffer stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and aches and pains. It can be fatal, and a small percentage of victims develop chronic arthritis.

Tuesday's lawsuit could be the second of many to come in Macomb Circuit Court. Babcock said he is working with one dozen to two dozen potential plaintiffs who may file in the coming months.

The first lawsuit was filed last Friday by Dawn Korczak, 29, of Fraser, who is seeking $1 million in damages.

Korczak's attorney, James Tanielian of St. Clair Shores, said he has talked to about eight potential clients.

An attorney for the bakery and its owner, Ron Matoski, said blaming Black Forest for the outbreak is premature because the cause is still under investigation. Attorney Dave Shea contended that a contaminated product could have been delivered to the shop.

"It would be a grave error to rush to judgment," Shea said.

However, Dr. Kevin Lokar, medical director at the Macomb County Health Department, said officials have ruled out a contaminated product entering the store or an infected employee. All the workers tested negative for salmonella, he said.

"Something happened in the bakery in the food-preparation process," Lokar said.

State agriculture and public health department spokespersons could not confirm that all potential outside products had been removed as possible causes.

Jones' attorney Babcock said even if the probe reveals a contaminated product, the bakery should be held partially responsible.

In a state Agriculture Department inspection at Black Forest shortly after the infections were discovered, raw egg white was found dripping onto a container of cannoli filling, which also is used in the cake.

Lokar said that is a potential cause.

Matoski has said his cannoli filling does not contain eggs.

In November 2000, the bakery was cited by the state for bare-hand handling of food by employees.

Foods contaminated with salmonella usually are of animal origin -- beef, poultry, milk or eggs -- but all foods can be contaminated. Thorough cooking kills the bacteria.

Babcock, who spent Monday and Tuesday in Macomb County, said his client began suffering symptoms the day after eating the cassatta cake, and salmonella was confirmed March 12. Still suffering symptoms Saturday, she went to the emergency room at Mount Clemens General Hospital, where she was prescribed the antibiotic Ciproflaxin for seven days.

Jones' husband, Ryan, is also listed as a plaintiff in the legal action.

Babcock, who is working with a local firm, Garton & Vogt in Clinton Township, said attorneys filed soon in order to be able to start obtaining evidence and information. Other lawsuits will follow in the months to come.

Jones' case was assigned to Judge James Biernat, while Korczak's was assigned to Judge Mark Switalski.

Black Forest is covered by insurance but Shea would not reveal the amount of coverage.

"We may not have to file any more lawsuits if the insurance company steps up and takes care of everybody" who got sick, Babcock said.

Shea said lawsuits were expected.

Meanwhile, at the bakery, business dropped dramatically in the days after the outbreak.

"The business has suffered but the customers are starting to come back," Shea said.

Shea said the owner "is upset" about the incident.

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