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Outbreak News

Eatery hit with lawsuit

MV restaurant faces civil action over January outbreak of intestinal infection



A Mount Vernon restaurant has been sued over a food-borne intestinal infection outbreak that sickened at least nine people in January.

The civil suit against the Royal Fork was filed last week in Skagit County Superior Court on behalf of Sandra and Lester Hemmingson of Mount Vernon. Sandra Hemmingson was hospitalized for three days and has still not recovered fully from the shigella outbreak, her lawyers said in court papers.

Shigellosis is caused by the shigella bacteria, and is more commonly known as dysentery. Typical symptoms include abdominal pain, stomach cramps, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and rectal spasms.

“We did have a cluster of people ill and it traced back to the Royal Fork,” said Corinne Story, an environmental health specialist with the Skagit County Health Department.

On Jan. 11, Sandra Hemmingson ate hot food and items from the salad bar at Royal Fork, 2300 Freeway Drive in Mount Vernon, according to investigators from the health department.

The partners who operate the restaurant are named as defendants in the suit. The partners are Mt. Vernon RF Partnership and Matthew T. Loughney.

Loughney said Tuesday that he had not been served papers and he was unaware that a lawsuit had been filed. He declined to comment until he has seen the documents.

The suit seeks an undisclosed amount of compensation for time missed from work, medical and other expenses incurred as the result of the infection, said Andy Weisbecker of Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm, which is representing the Hemmingsons.

“This was a fairly dramatic illness, for which the victim was hospitalized for three days,” Weisbecker said. “She still has some residual effect as a result of her exposure at the restaurant.”

The outbreak was traced back to a female food service worker at the restaurant, who failed to properly wash her hands after using the bathroom, Story said.

Nine cases were confirmed and two people displayed the symptoms, but did not go to the doctor for a checkup to confirm their cases, said Maryl Skjei, a communicable disease nurse with the county Health Department.

Shigellosis is caused when shigella organisms attach to and penetrate the wall of a person’s intestinal tract. The most common causes of the illness are water polluted with human feces and food contaminated through unsanitary handling by food handlers.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 300,000 cases of shigellosis occur annually in the United States. Skagit County had 10 shigellosis cases in 2000. Two cases were confirmed the previous year.

The law office of Marler Clark is no stranger to representing plaintiffs in various food-borne illness lawsuits.

William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box related to E. coli in 1993. Marler Clark also resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for $12 million for five families whose children became sick after consuming contaminated apple juice.

Mount Vernon lawyer Thomas Moser is also representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

More on this outbreak: Royal Fork Shigella Outbreak

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