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Village Bistro Alta to Be Hit with Lawsuit After Hepatitis Scare

By Andrea Swalec | April 11, 2013 2:28pm | Updated on April 11, 2013 6:08pm

MANHATTAN — A diner at the Village restaurant at the center of a hepatitis scare last week is planning to sue the Mediterranean bistro for negligence, his lawyer announced.

Attorneys for Alta customer Michael Piacente are set to file a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant in New York State Supreme Court Thursday, after an employee was diagnosed with hepatitis A stemming from a trip abroad.

Piacente, a Fairfield County, Conn. resident who shared an ice cream sundae at Alta with his fiancée as a pre-wedding treat on March 28, decided to sue the top-rated 64 W. 10th St. restaurant because he believes management acted negligently by selling unsafe food and not requiring its food-service employees to be vaccinated for hepatitis A, attorney Bill Marler said.

"What the restaurant did wrong is not having their employees vaccinated and putting customers at risk," Marler said.

The city Health Department warned Friday night that anyone who ate dessert at Alta between March 23 and April 2 may have come in contact with the hepatitis A virus because a part-time member of the kitchen staff had been diagnosed with the disease after a trip to Mexico.

No additional cases of hepatitis A have been reported in connection to exposure at the tapas restaurant, according to the Health Department. Piacente ate dessert there during the period in question and has not yet received the results of his hepatitis test, his lawyer said.

Alta owner Christopher Chesnutt declined to comment on the suit because he had not yet seen the filing, but he said the 10-year-old restaurant was working closely with the city Health Department.

"We're following and cooperating with the Department of Health's advisories," he said. "The Department of Health found no contamination here and we still have a letter grade A."

Chesnutt said that while Alta does not require its employees to be vaccinated for hepatitis A, neither does the city.

Piacente and any other diners who participate in the suit will ask for damages incurred because of medical expenses, wage loss, physical pain and emotional distress, Marler said. He noted that about a dozen people who ate dessert at Alta during the risk period have contacted his firm, which specializes in food-safety law.

Piacente and his wife are still waiting on the results of their April 9 hepatitis A tests as they prepare for their honeymoon to the Caribbean, Marler said.

"After going to a restaurant, the last thing you expect is that you're going to get a phone call [saying] that you've been potentially exposed to a pathogen that can kill you," Marler said. "A $50 vaccine would have obviated the need for all of this to happen."