A few months ago, the nation’s worst outbreak of hepatitis A killed three people and sickened 660 others in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. More than 9,000 frightened people flocked to hospitals for tests and inoculations. Now that Chi-Chi’s has reopened its doors, loyal customers are happily returning.
But as the “Hepatitis Claims?” billboard on Route 60 attests, the health and economic crisis set off by the disturbing epidemic of hepatitis is far from over. Local lawyers are saying the hepatitis A outbreak is the biggest source of public health litigation in a generation, ever since the steel industry began generating workers’ asbestos claims.
As a Monaca, Pennsylvania, journalist has reported in the story Surviving in western Pa., Chi-Chi’s has paid out $96,000 in claims since the bankruptcy court approved the company to reimburse victims up to $3,000 for medical costs and lost wages.
Chi-Chi’s essentially has a $500,000 “deductible” on a $51 million liability insurance policy, which it expects to dip into after it reaches the limit. Victims might have other avenues for restitution. At least one suit has been filed against producers and suppliers who were implicated as possible sources of the tainted green onions.
While these kinds of legal imbroglios involving major chains and public health crises often take years to resolve, William Marler, a Seattle attorney, expects a speedier outcome.
“Chi-Chi’s in bankruptcy is actually a good thing for the victims,” says Marler, who represents 120 victims, including the 56-year-old man who needed a liver transplant. “If they want to get out of bankruptcy, they have to get rid of these claims sooner rather than later.”