15 Sue Mississippi Pizza Hut

July 27, 2009

A $1.1 million lawsuit filed against the company that owns a Pizza Hut in north Mississippi has grown to include 15 members of the same church who claim they became sick after eating chicken at the restaurant.

Nineteen people were taken to a hospital after eating at the Pizza Hut in Greenwood on Jan. 18, complaining of symptoms such as vomiting and nausea. They were treated and released.

Chris Fuller, a spokesman for Pizza Hut, said Friday “that legally this lawsuit is without merit.”

“Both the Mississippi State Health Department and FDA found there was nothing wrong with the food,” Fuller added.

Kansas-based NPC International Inc. is named as the only defendant in the latest version of the suit.That company is the world’s largest Pizza Hut franchisee with hundreds of restaurants across the country, according to its Web site.

Although Pizza Hut is not named, Fuller said he had been in contact with NPC International Inc. and could comment on the franchisee’s behalf. An NPC International vice president did not immediately respond to messages left Friday by The Associated Press.

A Mississippi Department of Health analysis revealed little about why the customers become ill. It found raw chicken at inappropriate temperatures, but said bacteria found in raw chicken doesn’t usually cause sickness so quickly. The 19 people who fell ill were taken to the hospital within an hour of eating the food.

The 14-page report was issued by Dr. Paul Byers of the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Program. The report said if there was a toxin in the food, one would expect a higher attack rate among those who ate at the restaurant.

The lawsuit has grown from two plaintiffs when it was initially filed in March. The suit filed last week in Leflore County Circuit Court claims the restaurant failed to exercise reasonable care in preparing and storing food and did not properly train employees.

Grenada attorney Carlos Moore said he wants $75,000 for each client and, collectively, they are seeking $1.125 million.

All 15 plaintiffs are members of the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church of Itta Bena. Moore said they all ate chicken and that’s what made them sick.

Moore was originally representing two people in a lawsuit and said the others retained him after the health department report was released in April.

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