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Downers Grove woman sues Mexican restaurant for E. coli infection

Updated: June 20, 2013 8:03PM

Elizabeth Bernardi thought she had picked up a bad stomach flu until more than two days of pain, vomiting and diarrhea left her lying exhausted on her bathroom floor.

“I’ve been through childbirth six times and I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” said Bernardi, 49. “The pain was off the charts.”

She ended up being hospitalized for five days with an E. coli infection allegedly caused by eating contaminated food from a Mexican restaurant in suburban Lombard.

The Downers Grove woman is one of 21 people believed to have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak, which DuPage County health officials have linked to the now-shuttered Los Burritos Mexicanos restaurant.

Tests confirmed 11 E. coli cases linked to the restaurant, while there are another 10 probable cases, said Jason Gerwig, a spokesman for the DuPage County Health Department. Six people have been hospitalized, he said.

Bernardi filed a lawsuit Thursday against the restaurant seeking more than $50,000 in damages for her illness, from which she said she is still struggling to recover.

Bernardi, her husband and their six children have eaten regularly at the restaurant for about 20 years.

She fell ill on June 9, about three days after eating steak tacos from the restaurant—the first time she’s ever ordered that meal. Her condition, which began with a 101-degree fever, steadily worsened until she was hospitalized on June 12, Bernardi said. She was released Monday but continues to receive medical care.

Her illness could have been worse—and possibly deadly, said her attorney, Bill Marler, whose Seattle-based firm specializes in food-borne illnesses, including E. coli.

About 200,000 people annually are sickened by the E. coli bacteria, and as many as 75 people die from the illness, which can cause strokes, kidney failure and other fatal conditions, he said.

“This bug is an incredibly nasty bug,” said Marler, who also is representing two other people sickened by the Lombard outbreak.

The illness typically is caused by meat or vegetable products contaminated with animal feces.

Health officials are still trying to determine what food triggered the outbreak, Gerwig said.

Restaurant operators couldn’t be reached for comment.

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