A 72-year-old woman who said she ate at a Souplantation in Lake Forest during the recent E. coli outbreak has sued the company for allegedly serving contaminated food that caused her kidneys to fail, according to an April 17 article in the Los Angeles Times story. Alice Secrist was reportedly hospitalized April 3 at Irvine Regional Hospital and Medical Center with abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and fatigue, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court.
Secrist, who needed dialysis, did not test positive for the bacteria because she was taking antibiotics before she was hospitalized, her attorney told the newspaper. It is possible to be infected with E. Coli and yet not test positive, stated Orange County health officials. The woman’s doctors also told her that she was suffering from a “classic case of E. Coli,” her lawyer said. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for medical expenses, loss of income, legal fees and other damages.
Secrist, a Rancho Santa Margarita resident, ate at the restaurant’s salad bar on March 23 with a friend, according to the article. A few days later, she went to a clinic with “intense abdominal cramping and was prescribed antibiotics.” Her attorney said she was still sick and returned to a doctor who sent her to a hospital. He said Secrist was only recently released from the hospital and that “her digestive system will be completely in turmoil for at least a few months.”
Health officials say 14 customers and one employee who ate at the Town Center Drive restaurant between March 23 and 25 have tested positive for the bacteria. Secrist is not on the agency’s list. Three victims were hospitalized, including a 12-year-old girl who was released last week from Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange. Officials have not yet been able to pinpoint the source of the outbreak. The Lake Forest Souplantation has been closed since April 6, but reopened Thursday. Officials assured the public that it has reopened only after its employees were screened for the bacteria, the restaurant sanitized and its food supply restocked, health officials said.
The woman seems to have had all the traditional symptoms of E. Coli. The way we handle cases, we would not have filed a lawsuit this early unless all reasonable attempts to settle our clients claim had been exhausted. The premature filing of a lawsuit usually results in my client incurring expenses that might otherwise not be incurred. Attorneys will sometimes seek press coverage and publicity for their case by being the first of the cases to be filed in a mass tort situation. Filing a lawsuit after settlement attempts have failed, usually many months after an event, doesn’t get much press coverage because it is no longer newsworthy.
It will be interesting to see how many of the Souplantation victims actually file lawsuits and how many quietly settle. I like using the leverage of the “threat to file” in order to get a quicker, better resolution for my client. Once the lawsuit is filed, the leverage of the “threat” is lost.
Food-borne illness cases are not usually easy to prove. Although this one may be, due to the facts and circumstances. Food poisoning can be extremely painful and debilitating. Luckily, it usually is gone and the victim completely recovered within a couple weeks. I’ve been through it myself and its complete agony.
Restaurants and other places which serve food must follow strict food safety guidelines, and if they don’t, innocent people face the risk of very serious illnesses. Foodborne illness has become a common occurrence throughout the United States, especially over the last six months from the tainted spinach and lettuce to salmonella-contaminated peanut butter, which has reportedly claimed lives. Eating out has become synonymous with a risk of contracting a food-borne illness.
If you or a loved one has suffered from a food-borne illness as a result of eating at a restaurant or purchasing contaminated food products, call me, John Bisnar at 800-259-6373 for a free consultation.