Hundreds of people across 11 states have been sickened by a parasite found in Mexican basil called Cyclospora. Now, two restaurants in Jacksonville are facing lawsuits because of the outbreak.
Abby Smith is one of the customers on the First Coast suing the Cooper’s Hawk in the St. Johns Town Center, claiming she contracted Cyclospora after eating at the restaurant.
“You wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy, it was horrific,” said Smith. “I wake up and I’m depressed, this has taken away time, time out of my life with my family.”
For months she says she’s battled the painful effects from the parasite, which causes a complex intestinal illness, and with it, expensive medical visits too.
“I have bills on my desk now that need to be paid,” she said.
She’s not alone, though. Holly Green-Pelligrini is suing the Bazille Café, located inside of Nordstrom, with similar claims in her lawsuit. In her lawsuit, she claims she has suffered damages in excess of $50,000.
“I had a lot of pain the next day, severe pain I’ve never had in my life,” said Green-Pelligrini.
To this day, she says she has trouble keeping food down and staying hydrated.
“I lost a total of 30 pounds in four weeks,” she said.
As a business owner, she claims in her lawsuit she hasn’t been able to work and says it’s taken a toll on her family, costing her precious time, particularly in the two months before her sister died. She says she wasn’t able to spend any time with her sister before she passed in August due to the contagious nature of Cyclospora at the time.
Tony Coveny, an attorney with the national food safety law firm of Ron Simon & Associates, is representing both women.
“Cyclospora is one of the more difficult ones to deal with because the effects last so long,” he said.
While Cooper’s Hawk and Bazille Cafe are named in their lawsuits, he says the fault falls back on the original producers of the basil in Mexico called Siga Logistics.
“We are going to hold them accountable to the degree that they failed to follow proper procedures, that’s the goal of this litigation.”
Coveny says other countries do not have the same standards as the United States when it comes to produce and cleanliness. That’s why both women now say they buy produce only produced in the U.S. and thoroughly wash anything they buy.
Coveny says Jacksonville appears to be the 'epicenter' of importing that particular basil so he does expect more lawsuits from customers who became sick after eating at local restaurants, but those will not be named until lawsuits are officially filed in court.