Second Salmonella lawsuit filed against chili's by Marler Clark


CHICAGO — Seattle food-safety law firm, Marler Clark, today filed a second lawsuit against Brinker Restaurant Corporation, the owner of the Vernon Hills Chili’s restaurant where over 300 people are said to have been injured in a Salmonella outbreak linked to infected food-workers, inadequate hand-washing, and a manager’s decision to open the restaurant despite not having water. The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court on behalf of Kimberly Fields, who became seriously ill, and required hospitalization, after buying and eating to-go food from Chili’s on June 26, the day on which the restaurant opened and operated despite not having hot water.

The lawsuit, which seeks damages of over $75,000, alleges that Fields was injured by Chili’s negligence. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Chili’s “failed to adequately monitor the sanitary conditions of its food, drink, water, premises, and employees,…failed to apply its own food safety policies and procedures to ensure the safety and sanitary conditions of its food,…failed to properly train its employees…failed to properly supervise its employees…failed to have or enforce a hand-washing or glove-use policy effective to prevent the transmission of salmonella [and]…failed to design or implement an employee sick-leave policy that would allow, encourage, or cause employees to not work while sick.”

“It has been nearly five months since the outbreak,” said Denis Stearns, the Marler Clark partner in charge of the case. “Five months since a Chili’s spokesperson said that ‘the health of our guests and employees is our top-priority’— a sentiment that does not appear to have resulted in settlement of anything but a minority of claims, or the payment of medical bills not covered by insurance, which is a real hardship for some.”

In its Preliminary Report dated September 10, 2003, the Lake County Health Department, (LCHD) noted a site inspection of the restaurant found a dish machine with the top “rusty brown from corrosion” and the “best estimate is the sanitizer had not been working for at least a week.” More troubling was the finding that Chili’s management had decided to risk operating without water on June 26, and without hot water for part of the day on June 27. These were the two days when the majority of people appear to have been infected with salmonella at the restaurant.

“I would like to think that the folks down in Chili’s corporate headquarters really had my health as a top priority,” said Kimberly Fields. “But you look at how this outbreak happened, and you can’t help but think that making money was more important than being safe. I mean, people don’t work while they’re sick unless they feel like they have no choice, or might lose their jobs if they don’t come in. And a manager doesn’t decide to open for business without water unless all that really matters is maybe making his sales-target for the month.”

In addition to strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty claims, the lawsuit filed today also asks the Court for the “opportunity to amend or modify the…Complaint, including the addition of a claim for punitive damages, if necessary or appropriate after additional or further discovery is completed in this matter.”

“We expect the Health Department’s final report on the outbreak to shed even more light on the failures and bad decisions that lead to this outbreak,” continued Stearns. “But with this lawsuit, we hope to dig further, and find out not just how this happened, but why. So stay tuned. If we find facts that justify it, we will definitely seek an award of punitive damages.”

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BACKGROUND: In addition to the over 60 victims of the Chili’s salmonella outbreak, Stearns and his partners represent over 100 victims of the Chi-Chi’s Hepatitis-A Outbreak near Pittsburgh. Marler Clark is known as the premiere foodborne illness litigation firm in the United States. It has achieved great success representing victims, mostly children, in the largest outbreaks across the country over the last ten years. Marler Clark has also obtained record verdicts and settlements on behalf of thousands of people infected with E. coli, Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Listeria, Shigella and Campylobacter. Total recoveries to date on behalf of victims are in excess of $100 Million.

More about the Chili's Salmonella outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.