According to the Kern Faculty Medical Group, they expect to have enough hepatitis A vaccine shots after supplies temporarily ran out Saturday. The medical group had given about 90 vaccine shots Saturday morning before supplies ran out, said Dr. Mansukh Ghadiya with the clinic.  Public health officials made arrangements with Kern Faculty Medical Group for people who needed the vaccine or other treatment after news a worker at Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler (not to be confused with the Chuy’s in Austin Texas which was famous for serving alcohol to one of the under-age Bush girls) was diagnosed with hepatitis A was released last week.  I bet Chuy’s wished they required Hepatitis A vaccines of all employees.

In that last several years we have represented health departments who pay for these shots, the people who stand in line waiting to get them and those unfortunate enough to not get the shots in time. Restaurants have included, Houlihan’s, Carl’s Jr., Chi-Chi’s, D’Angelo’s, Friendly’s, Maple Lawn Dairy, McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Silver Grill Location Catering, Subway and Taco Bell.

Hepatitis A is one of five human hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E) that primarily infect the liver and cause illness. An estimated 80,000 cases occur each year in the U.S., although much higher estimates have been proposed based on mathematical modeling of the past incidence of infection. Each year, an estimated 100 persons die as a result of acute liver failure in the U.S. due to hepatitis A, but the rate of infection has dramatically decreased since the hepatitis A vaccine was licensed and became available in the U.S. in 1995.

Hepatitis A is a communicable (or contagious) disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Food contaminated with the virus is the most common vehicle transmitting hepatitis A. The food preparer or cook is the individual most often contaminating the food, although he or she is generally not ill at the time of food preparation. The peak time of infectivity, when the most virus is present in the stool of an infectious individual, is during the two weeks before illness begins. Although only a small percentage of hepatitis A infections are associated with foodborne transmission, foodborne outbreaks have been increasingly implicated as a significant source of hepatitis A infection.

It reads like the who’s who of restaurants – Carl’s Jr., Chi-Chi’s, D’Angelo’s, Friendly’s, Houlihan’s, Maple Lawn Dairy, McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Silver Grill Location Catering, Subway, Taco Bell – who we have sued over the last dozen years for allowing either a Hepatitis A infected worker to serve food, or serve food already infected with Hepatitis A. Either way, the outcome has been the same, hundreds sickened, several deaths and tens of thousands of customers standing in line for immune globulin (IG) vaccines.

Now, an employee of Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler on Rosedale Highway went to work with Hepatitis A. The Kern County Department of Public Health says the employee worked and was potentially infectious from Friday, January 4 until Thursday, January 10. The Health Department announced that IG vaccines for patrons who have not already received the Hepatitis A vaccines are available. The vaccinations will be available at Kern Faculty Medical Group at 2201 Mount Vernon Avenue, Suite 211 in Bakersfield. You can call them at 661-872-7000 for more information.

Over the last several years, we have repeatedly called on restaurants to voluntarily provide vaccines to employees to prevent this in the first place. My guess is that Chuy’s wishes they would have listened.

Hepatitis A is a communicable (or contagious) disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Food contaminated with the virus is the most common vehicle transmitting hepatitis A. The food preparer or cook is the individual most often contaminating the food, although he or she is generally not ill at the time of food preparation. The peak time of infectivity, when the most virus is present in the stool of an infectious individual, is during the two weeks before illness begins. Although only a small percentage of hepatitis A infections are associated with foodborne transmission, foodborne outbreaks have been increasingly implicated as a significant source of hepatitis A infection.

The Associated Press reports that the Food and Drug Administration says workers at one of four Mexican green onion farms inspected as the result of a 2003 hepatitis outbreak lived in windowless metal shacks with no showers. Shallow trenches ran from an area littered with soiled diapers and other human waste, downhill to onion fields and a packaging house, recently released documents show.
The FDA has stopped short of conclusively linking any one problem at the farms to the outbreak, which sickened at least 650 people and killed four who ate at the Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Beaver County.
From the article:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded green onions caused the outbreak because they were the common denominator for all those who got sick. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA traced the onions through Castellini to the Mexican farms that were inspected in December 2003, two months after the outbreak, Gordon said.
“I think people make a lot of assumptions about conditions at these farms and what those conditions might have led to,” said Castellini attorney Gary Becker. “But there’s no evidence the hepatitis A that contaminated these poor folks in Pennsylvania were ever found on a green onion.”
That’s a red herring, Gordon said.
It’s true that investigators never found a green onion that tested positive for hepatitis at the restaurant or on the farms.
But officials say it’s uncommon for tainted food samples to be found after an outbreak because they have been eaten or thrown away by the time the outbreak is discovered. And, months after the farms shut down for the season, there’s no way to test whether hepatitis A tainted the onions, said Bill Marler, the Seattle-based food litigation attorney who represents scores of victims.
Marler gave the FDA inspection reports to The Associated Press after his firm obtained them last month through the Freedom of Information Act.
FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said three of the four farms inspected in 2003 are still banned from exporting onions to the United States. Among other things, inspectors questioned worker training and hygiene; whether water supplies were tainted by human or animal waste; and whether water used to wash onions was clean and properly chlorinated.
The Dos M Sales De Mexico farm in LaRumorosa where the FDA found the squalid housing also couldn’t document that portable toilets were available to workers for two weeks during the 2003 growing season. Workers there fashioned showers out of wood and metal scraps, the FDA found. The farm was the only one inspected that didn’t offer child care, forcing workers to keep tabs on their children from a distance while they worked.
“They didn’t find the smoking gun. The conditions at that place were the worst, but hepatitis A could have spread at any of those locations,” Marler said.

Five lawsuits have already been filed against the Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain over a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed three people and sickened more than 600, and scores of other lawsuits are likely to follow.

But legal experts say two key issues facing the company could determine whether victims and their families get the settlements they seek: insurance and bankruptcy.

The Mexican restaurant chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 8, citing cash flow problems, a month before the hepatitis outbreak was confirmed.

On Friday, a bankruptcy judge gave limited approval to Chi-Chi’s plans to begin paying some expenses for those sickened in the outbreak – up to $20,000 per claim. He did not, however, fully approve Chi-Chi’s plan to pay $500,000 on an insurance deductible so the company could tap into as much as $51 million in liability insurance it may need to settle claims. A hearing is set for Tuesday on the matter.

Continue Reading Chi-Chi’s Faces Lawsuits Over Hepatitis

Another news article on my two most recent Chi-Chi’s lawsuits, on behalf of Bennie Martino and Angelo Palitti.

Chris Osher of the Tribune-Review reports:

The lawsuits, both filed by Seattle lawyer William Marler, allege that the method Chi-Chi’s used to store green onions, which health officials have identified as the likely culprits, essentially created “hepatitis soup.”

“It was definitely the last thing I needed to go through at that point,” Martino said. “It was just crazy. Now, I get creditors calling me and sending me letters. I tell them it’s in litigation. That’s all I can do right now.”

He said his adopted 6-year-old son helped him pull through.

“He’d come to the hospital every day and see me laid up like that,” Martino said. “The most important thing in my life is my boy and being here for him.”

Lawsuits against Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant, the center of a major hepatitis A outbreak last year, continue to trickle in.

As KDKA.com reported:

Two more federal lawsuits were filed this week against the chain for making what one attorney calls “hepatitis soup.”

Bennie Martino, of Monaca, and Angelo Palitti, of Aliquippa, say they too were sickened by green onions when they ate at the chain restaurant in a Beaver County mall last fall.

The suits were filed by Seattle attorney William Marler, who is representing numerous other victims in the case. Nearly 700 people were sickened in the outbreak and four died from complications. Marler says improper storage of the green onions by Chi-Chi’s led to the outbreak

Christopher Snowbeck of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a story yesterday about my clients Richard and Linda Miller, two of the 660 people sickened with hepatitis A in last year’s Chi Chi’s outbreak. Snowbeck’s article Hepatitis still hurts reports:

Tomorrow marks the single day on which the greatest number of outbreak patients — more than 50 — started feeling sick last year. Most of those people have recovered, but from Richard Miller’s home on a quiet street in the town of Beaver to the farms of northwest Mexico, the outbreak’s impact still lingers.

Chi-Chi’s is in the process of paying out about $10 million to roughly 350 of those sickened in the outbreak. That includes payments of more than $35,000 to each of about 50 victims — larger claims that are subject to bankruptcy court approval.

Ernst said fewer than 100 claims from hepatitis A victims have yet to be resolved through a special mediation process. But Bill Marler, an attorney for several people sickened in the outbreak, said several of the remaining cases — including that of Richard Miller — involve some of the most serious illnesses. Chi-Chi’s has $51 million in liability insurance.

But monetary damages aren’t the only pains still being suffered. Richard Miller still feels the pain, too.

In the kitchen of his Beaver home, a plastic tub filled with 11 pill tubes sits on the counter, a constant reminder of the many medicines he must take. Miller received a liver donated by a 24-year-old, and the organ is functioning very well. But the transplant requires him to take anti-rejection drugs, likely for the rest of his life, and cope with their side effects.
During the transplant surgery, Miller suffered a cardiac arrest, which cut the supply of oxygen to the brain. As a result, he has brain damage that sporadically affects his short-term memory.

Hobbies such as golf, hunting and fishing are impossible, and Miller says he can’t even mow his lawn. But what really hurts is not being able to work, he said.

“Work gives you purpose in life,” Miller said. “Somewhere along the line, I have to find a way to find that again. But right now, I only have about two hours worth of work in me each day.”

Joe Mandak of the Associated Press reported today that 14 out of 15 hepatitis claims against Chi Chi’s were settled in first mediation sessions. Two settlements involve more than $35,000 each, so they’ll have to be approved by the bankruptcy judge.

“The amount of the settlements are confidential, although the cases we resolved are certainly none of the long-term hospitalized cases or deaths or liver transplants,” said attorney William Marler, whose Seattle-based firm Marler Clark specializes in tainted food litigation.

“What we dealt with is people who were sick for three to six weeks and had your standard, but horrible, hepatitis A infection,” Marler said of the first round of mediation, which occurred privately late last week near Pittsburgh.
A second round of mediation is being scheduled for late next month, Marler said.

The cost of mediation is being split between plaintiffs’ attorneys. My firm represents 85 of the 300 plaintiffs. Most of the others are represented by local Pittsburgh attorneys.

Chi-Chi’s will try to recoup some of its losses from the onion suppliers through bankruptcy proceedings, Marler said.

The Associated Press reported this morning that Chi Chi’s bankruptcy judge approved the mediation agreement which will allow claimants 45 days to submit lawsuits to nonbinding mediation, beginning in about two weeks.

In the past, notices of court orders like the one signed Thursday have been run in newspapers and on radio broadcasts advising people who say they were affected to send in claims, Marler said.

The state has records of the approximately 9,000 people who were inoculated following the outbreak.

“The argument against this system is there is a short timeframe for filing claims,” Marler said. “But you don’t have to send in all of your information. You just need to make sure that Chi-Chi’s, the suppliers and insurers know you exist.”

Cases may be divided into those who were sickened and those who just went in for shots.

The agreement to approve a mediation system to handle major legal claims against Chi Chi’s was going to be presented on Tuesday, but was delayed because one of the attorneys couldn’t sign off on it until Wednesday.

The agreement will create a 45-day window during which those who got sick could submit their pending lawsuits to nonbinding mediation. Those whose cases don’t settle would then be free to sue Chi-Chi’s for damages.

As J.D. Prose’s story Chi-Chi’s agreement awaited reports:

“What we’re trying to do is figure out a way where everyone gets fairly compensated,” said attorney William Marler.

Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer whose firm represents about 70 hepatitis A plaintiffs, described the proposed mediation as “a process where everybody gets an opportunity to resolve their claim in a … straight-forward manner.”