Bill Vidonic, Times Staff
BEAVER – The widow of a man whose family says he died after contracting hepatitis A in the Chi-Chi’s outbreak has sued the defunct restaurant chain and several produce suppliers.
With the lawsuit Tuesday from Marilyn Greathouse of Daugherty Township, representing the estate of her husband, Harvey Greathouse, there are six cases pending against Chi-Chi’s in county court.
Greathouse’s suit names the restaurant chain, along with four companies that supplied green onions and other produce to Chi-Chi’s: Castellini Co., Kentucky; New Star Fresh Foods, California; APIO Fresh, California; and Boskovich Farms, California.
In October 2003, nearly 660 people were sickened with hepatitis A when they ate tainted green onions at the chain’s Beaver Valley Mall restaurant in Center Township. Of those sickened, the state Department of Health confirmed previously that four Beaver County residents died.
Pittsburgh lawyer James D. Belliveau said he has a letter from a liver specialist saying that Harvey Greathouse, 74, died as a result of contracting hepatitis A. The Greathouse family says he contracted the disease when eating at the restaurant on Sept. 29, 2003. The family told The Times earlier that Greathouse also suffered from other medical problems.
Independent confirmation of the cause of Greathouse’s death could not be obtained by The Times.
Belliveau said he intends to mediate the claim with the defendants, meaning he will work toward a settlement. Belliveau said he had to file paperwork now because the two-year statute of limitations is approaching.
In the wake of the outbreak, more than 550 people filed claims against the restaurant for out-of-pocket medical expenses or for more serious damages. Almost all of the cases, including the four previous wrongful-death suits, have been settled for a total of about $40 million.
In addition to the Greathouse suit, five other suits remain active in Beaver County Court. Those five are asking for less than $25,000 in damages. At least two of those lawsuits were moved from federal court to county court within the past couple of months.
The restaurant chain had filed for bankruptcy protection just before the hepatitis outbreak occurred. In 2004, company officials liquidated the chain, selling off most of its assets to the Outback restaurant chain.
Chi-Chi’s has sued Castellini Co., accusing the firm of supplying the tainted onions, which the Food and Drug Administration traced to several Mexican farms. Castellini officials have denied wrongdoing and have a motion pending in U.S. District Court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Chi-Chi’s and its insurers are seeking reimbursement for the settlements, and Chi-Chi’s wants $55 million more because the outbreak scuttled a pending plan to sell the chain, company attorneys said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bill Vidonic can be reached online at email@example.com.