La. Man’s Death After Eating Oysters Prompts Lawsuit

February 21, 2008

Relatives of a man who died two weeks after eating oysters for his 60th birthday dinner are suing the state health department and a Denham Springs restaurant, claiming negligence.

The family of James Sartwell, in its lawsuit, claims Don’s Seafood Hut did not do enough to warn customers about the potential risks of raw oysters to people with underlying health conditions. The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Livingston Parish, also claims the state Department of Health and Hospitals did not do enough to enforce regulations requiring oyster warnings.

Both the restaurant’s co-owner, Eric Mulina, and a spokeswoman for the health department, Lauren Mendes, declined comment.

The lawsuit claims Sartwell died Oct. 15 from complications arising from oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium found naturally in the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters and absorbed by such things as oysters. It says he had been diagnosed before his birthday with liver disease.

According to Mendes, seven of the 11 reported Louisiana cases associated with Vibrio vulnificus-contaminated commercial oysters between 1998 and 2007 ended in death. All but one of those 11 cases involved persons with underlying health conditions, she said.

The family’s attorney said the restaurant had a warning on the menu and on a sign at the oyster bar, but they didn’t warn about serious illness or death. The lawsuit claims Sartwell sat away from the oyster bar and didn’t look at the menu when ordering.

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