Leah Smith, a 22-year-old Oklahoma woman, filed a lawsuit against Taco Bell on February 17, alleging that the fast-food chain was responsible for the serious case of salmonella infection she suffered in November, Food Safety News reports.
The suit alleges that Smith ate at Taco Bell on November 3, 2011, and fell ill two days later. Her illness, which was gastrointestinal in nature, got progressively worse and necessitated several trips to doctors. A stool sample tested positive for salmonella. According to the suit, Smith was ill for two weeks and missed one week of work.
At the time, Smith was unable to connect her illness to a specific cause. The CDC confirmed, in the beginning of January, that there had been a widespread outbreak of salmonella in the Midwest around the time of her illness, but the Center refused to specify the restaurant chain that had propagated the salmonella.
A lengthy investigation on the part of Food Safety News, with the help of officials in Oklahoma and Michigan, tied Taco Bell to the outbreak.
The Food Safety News investigation led Smith to connect her illness to the meat at Taco Bell and to file the lawsuit. Smith is seeking $75,000 in damages for her emotional and physical distress and for her missed week of work.
She is being represented by Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark, which also publishes and underwrites Food Safety News.
In a phone call with HuffPost Food, Amy Kavanaugh, vice president of public affairs for Taco Bell, described the relationship between Marler Clark and Food Safety News as a conflict of interest. She noted that the CDC had rejected the possibility that the outbreak had been brought about by mishandled beef, indicating that fault lay with a supplier, rather than any specific chain that bought the infected ingredient, which has not yet been determined.
"The fact of the matter is that we do know the problem likely occurred at the supplier before it was delivered to any restaurant," she said. "Some people that were ill ate at our restaurants and some people didn't."
Kavanaugh refused to discuss the specifics of Smith's case, though she emphasized that any customer who approached Taco Bell directly with a "legitimate claim" of injury would receive recompense for their hardship.
"We expected that one or more lawyers, especially the one who's been focused on this topic, would sue over this incident," she said. "And they're doing so despite the fact that the CDC did not name us in their report. We stand behind our restaurants, our team members and our food."
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