MSU food safety specialist files suit because of foodborne illness
The State News
May 17, 2006

An MSU food safety specialist, who was one of more than 360 to claim illness after eating at Bravo Cucina Italiana, filed a lawsuit against the restaurant.

Attorneys from Marler Clark, a firm based in Seattle, filed the suit in Ingham County Circuit Court on Monday. Specialist Patti McNiel claims that Bravo failed to properly maintain and monitor the sanitary conditions of the restaurant, which caused her to have physical and economical damages.

Regarding the lawsuit, the Bravo offices have said they are still deciding on the defense for the case and have decided to give no comment on that situation.

McNiel said that after eating at the restaurant on May 7, she began to feel ill. On May 12, before heading to work, her husband suggested the possible source of her illness, she said.

“Right before I left for work, my husband had asked whether I remembered eating at Bravo last Sunday,” McNiel said. “After saying I did he informed me that a report was out that people had gotten sick after eating at Bravo, and I concluded that Bravo’s food may have caused my illness.”

“These types of lawsuits have become more and more common,” said Bill Marler, managing partner for Marler Clark. “It helps restaurants take notice of these situations.”

The firm has taken on cases dealing with restaurant health issues since 1993 and is now considered one of the leading law firms in the country in handling these types of cases, according to Marler.

Marler said the viruses that break out in these restaurants can become more serious if not taken care of right away, and a lawsuit like this helps them become more involved.

“The restaurant industry needs to take a much more aggressive way when it comes to food safety,” Marler said. “Litigation is just one of the tools used to make sure restaurants get these things straight.”

The lawsuit is asking for more than $25,000, which would go toward incidental and consequential damages, and includes medical-related expenses, wage claims and emotional distress.

Drew Falkenstein, an attorney at Marler Clark and a lawyer on the case, said the focus of this case is McNiel, and everything else is secondary.

“This lawsuit is meant to compensate Patti McNiel,” said Falkenstein. “If this changes the way the restaurant takes care of their food, that is a good thing, but this lawsuit is not intended for those purposes.”

Falkenstein also said the intention of this case is not to close down Bravo, but to help the person who was affected.

“We never go into a lawsuit with the idea to put someone out of business,” Falkenstein said. “This lawsuit is about Patti McNiel and to compensate her for the damages brought against her, so we certainly have no intentions of putting this restaurant out of business.”

After Bravo received reports of a possible foodborne illness from the health department, they voluntarily closed their doors to find the cause of the problem and resolve it. Since this incident, Bravo has followed the steps necessary to resolve the problem and is now able to open again.

Natasha Davidson, the risk communication specialist for the Ingham County Health Department, said that the health department has an idea of what caused the customers to become ill, but until results return from the lab, she could not comment on what the virus was.

“We still have not found the cause of what caused the customers to get sick,” Davidson said. “The norovirus is a suspect, but, as of right now, we do not know the cause of the illness.”

News reports released Tuesday evening confirmed norovirus caused the illnesses.

Now that Bravo has opened its doors again, McNiel is pessimistic about going back there to eat.

“It’s my favorite restaurant, but after getting as physically sick as I did, I really doubt I’ll be returning there to eat,” McNiel said.