Woman sues Taco Bell

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A Derry woman whose family became ill after possible exposure to hepatitis A at a Taco Bell sued the restaurant and its parent company Thursday.

Wendy Evans is the lead plaintiff in the class-action suit filed in Rockingham County Superior Court. She accuses the restaurant of negligence, arguing that it failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent an infected worker from spreading the disease. “We’re not ambulance chasers. This is about a mother’s worry about her family’s health,” Evans said.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease transmitted when someone eats food contaminated with fecal matter. Poor hand-washing is often to blame.

Thousands of people who ate at the Derry Taco Bell between Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 were warned to watch for symptoms after a female worker was diagnosed with the disease. State health officials said the case appeared to be isolated but offered injections of immune globulin as a precaution to prevent the disease.

Because the injections are effective only if given within two weeks of exposure, only those who ate at the restaurant Feb. 15-21 were eligible. Nearly 2,500 people received the shots.

earlier this month, including Evans, her husband and three children.

But the injections may not have helped them, since they ate tacos, burritos and chalupas from the restaurant twice, on Feb. 7 and Feb. 21.

Evans said her entire family experienced nausea and diarrhea for several days soon after getting takeout from Taco Bell on Feb. 7. Since receiving the inoculations, all of them have suffered headaches and nausea, and Evans has experienced a darkening of her urine.

When she took her children to the doctor on Tuesday, Evans was told she’d have to wait a week for blood tests to determine whether they were infected.

“It’s awful,” she said. “Especially for the kids, and my husband’s worried sick about me. It’s awful worrying about something that could have been prevented.”

Her lawsuit against Taco Bell Corp., its parent company, Yum Brands Inc.; and the owner, employees and managers of the Derry restaurant seeks unspecified damages for physical pain, physical symptoms, fear and emotional distress.

She argues that Taco Bell workers should have been required to wear gloves and should have been inoculated against hepatitis A when they were hired.

“I feel very bad for the person who worked there, but this is a national chain of restaurants. You wouldn’t think you could get a disease like that,” she said. “I’m not putting blame on that person, she got very sick. But wear the gloves.”

Phone messages left for Taco Bell Corp. and Yum Brands were not immediately returned Thursday morning.

A spokesman for Taco Bell Corp. previously has said that the company requires strict training of workers and regular hand-washing with an anti-microbial soap and sanitizing gel. It began requiring workers at the Derry restaurant to wear gloves on Feb. 26, and now all of its workers in New Hampshire wear them.

Peter Hutchins, who is representing the plaintiffs, said he hopes the lawsuit sends a message to fast-food restaurants that health and safety should come before cost and convenience.

“Thousands of children and adults alike patronized this restaurant in February assuming that the food they ordered was being delivered accordance with reasonable and acceptable levels of cleanliness and disease prevention. Unfortunately, this was not the case,” he said. “This is a serious matter, and if people do contract the disease, it will be even more serious than it already is.”

Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark urine or yellowing of the skin and eyes. Most people recover completely, although it can be severe for the elderly or those with chronic liver disease.

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