Kennesaw man sues restaurant, says daughters got E. coli from lettuce

A Kennesaw father has filed a lawsuit against Texas Roadhouse, claiming his daughters were sickened after eating a Caesar salad tainted with E. coli at the chain's Marietta location.

According to the suit filed in the Northern District Court of Atlanta on Thursday, William LoPresti and his daughters dined at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant located at 2475 Barrett Creek Parkway in Marietta on April 8.

LoPresti's daughters, ages 3 and 12, both ate Caesar salad, according to LoPresti's attorney, William Marler.

Two days later, both girls had a fever and started experiencing severe abdominal cramping, vomiting and bloody diarrhea, according to the suit. Texas Roadhouse denies a connection to the E. coli outbreak.

On April 13, LoPresti took his younger daughter to the WellStar Pediatric Center, and she was transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite. The 3-year-old was hospitalized for five days. Meanwhile, LoPresti’s older daughter, who is 12, required medical attention at WellStar Pediatric Professionals.

In a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, Marler said both girls continue to recover. He said the likelihood of any long-term complications is extremely low.

The LoPresti family dined at the Texas Roadhouse two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first warning about this E. coli outbreak, which has been traced to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma area, near the southwestern tip of Arizona.

Marler said Texas Roadhouse is still legally responsible to not sell a “defective product.”

Travis Doster, a spokesperson for Texas Roadhouse, with some 400 locations across the country, said in an email that they’ve done their own investigation and found no connection to the E. coli outbreak. He said the restaurant chain does not even serve bagged, chopped romaine, which has been associated with the E. coli outbreak. The restaurant uses only whole-head romaine, he said.

However, whole-head romaine also has come up as a problem. The Food and Drug Administration has identified Harrison Farms as the source of some whole-head romaine lettuce that made several people ill at a correctional facility in Alaska. Doster said Texas Roadhouse did a thorough farm-to-fork review and didn’t find any connection to Harrison Farms.

Last month, the CDC started warning people to not eat any romaine lettuce unless they knew where it’s from. As the outbreak spread, the CDC advisory expanded to urge people not to eat whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, along with chopped and bagged romaine with salad mixes that include romaine.

The CDC has confirmed cases from the E. coli outbreak in 32 states, most heavily in California and Pennsylvania. As of Tuesday, 172 people in 32 states had been sickened in the outbreak, including four people in Georgia. One death has been reported in California. Of those who became ill, 75 have been hospitalized, including 20 with kidney failure.

Marler said the LoPresti girls tested positive for E. coli, and there was a genetic match to the outbreak strain.

Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark, said while the lawsuit against Texas Roadhouse, based in Kentucky, asks for compensation for damages, including pain and suffering and medical expenses related to the E. coli-related illnesses, the larger goal is figuring out the source of the outbreak and making sure steps are taken to prevent future outbreaks. Marler, who operates a website called Food Safety News, said the aim of filing lawsuits against the place of purchase of the contaminated romaine is to force the disclosure of where in the chain of distribution — grower, shipper or processor — the E. coli contamination occurred.

“Only when we find out where the contamination occurred can we do something to prevent the next outbreak,” added Marler.

This is the most serious E. coli outbreak since 2006, when the bacterium spread from spinach. This year’s strain of E. coli is more harmful than usual, since it binds more strongly to blood vessels. E. coli binds to the blood vessels that line organs such as the gut, the kidneys or even the brain. It can then disrupt the blood flow to those organs, causing anything from severe indigestion to organ damage or death.

Marler Clark has filed six lawsuits in relation to the nationwide strain of E. coli bacteria (O157:H7) outbreak, including this complaint in Georgia along with a lawsuit in New Jersey against Panera and two in Arizona against Red Lobster. Marler Clark currently represents 86 people sickened in the outbreak, including 11 who developed acute kidney failure. Both Panera and Red Lobster have said they don’t comment on ongoing lawsuits, and both restaurant chains have said they have removed all romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region.

The FDA has been trying to determine exactly where, when and how the leafy greens involved in this latest outbreak were contaminated, but the cause remains a mystery.

In the meantime, federal officials have said the last of the E. coli-tainted lettuce is no longer on grocery-store shelves, meaning it should be OK to eat the leafy greens again.

What you need to know about the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak:

— The FDA is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses likely linked to romaine lettuce sourced from the winter growing areas in and around the Yuma, Ariz., growing region. The Food and Drug Administration has been trying to determine exactly where and when the leafy greens involved in this latest outbreak were contaminated.

— The CDC reports that 172 people in 32 states have become ill. These people reported becoming ill in the time period of March 13 to May 2. There have been 75 hospitalizations, and one death in California.

— The last shipments of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16, and the harvest season is over, according to the FDA. It is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still circulating in people’s homes, stores, or restaurants due to a 21-day shelf life.

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