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Patrons Sickened by Hepatitis A Sue Bronx Restaurant

By Eddie Small | June 13, 2014 1:12pm
 People who dined at New Hawaii Sea Restaurant in the Bronx line up to get vaccinated for hepatitis A.
People who dined at New Hawaii Sea Restaurant in the Bronx line up to get vaccinated for hepatitis A.
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DNAinfo/Claire Cameron

WILLIAMSBRIDGE — Two men who were sickened with hepatitis A during an outbreak at a Bronx restaurant last year have slapped the eatery with lawsuits.

Lawyer Bill Marler has filed suits against New Hawaii Sea Restaurant on behalf of Anthony Loreto Jr., 25, of The Bronx and David Cohen, 42, of New Jersey, who both contracted hepatitis A after eating at the restaurant, according to court documents.

Cohen, a volunteer firefighter, went to New Hawaii Sea Restaurant on Aug. 10, 2013 for a surprise birthday party and started experiencing symptoms on Sept. 8, the suit alleges. He developed abdominal pains, a swollen liver and a fever of about 103 degrees, and he was diagnosed with hepatitis A 10 days later.

Loreto had ordered takeout from the restaurant on Aug. 11, 2013, including lo mein noodles, Hawaii steak, pan-fried wontons and a spicy tuna roll, according to court documents.

On Sept. 8, he went to Urgent Care of Eastchester with symptoms of a fever, chills and weakness, and he was diagnosed with hepatitis A four days later.

Both lawsuits allege that the food the men ate was not fit for human consumption and that they suffered damages for loss of wages, medical expenses, travel expenses, emotional distress and physical pain.

Both continue to recover from their illnesses, the court papers say.

The documents do not specify the damages, but Marler estimated that he would ask the jury to award somewhere in the range of $100,000.

"The hardest thing is, what’s the inconvenience of basically having the worst case of the flu for two and a half or three months?" he said. "That’s basically what happens when you have hepatitis A."

News broke in September 2013 that four patrons and an employee at New Hawaii Sea had become ill with hepatitis A, after which the city opened a vaccine clinic to help potential victims and ordered the restaurant temporarily closed.

A Sept. 17 inspection at New Hawaii Sea revealed violations of bare hand contact with crispy fried noodles and food at the sushi bar, according to court papers, but it was approved to reopen on Sept. 21 after the city was able to verify that the staff had been tested and vaccinated, the health department said.

However, a new restaurant is now open at New Hawaii Sea's former location on 1475 Williamsbridge Road: Kai, which serves sushi and Asian fusion. The former owner of New Hawaii could not be reached for comment.

Marler, who has been litigating foodborne illness cases since the early 1990s, said many instances of hepatitis A are completely preventable by vaccinating employees, a practice he strongly supports.

"It’s something I’ve been advocating for a long, long time," he said, "and it just seems like pretty cheap insurance so you don’t wind up in a situation like New Hawaii did or many other restaurants have."