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Man ate a chicken sandwich from Zaxby’s in SC — then got hepatitis A, lawsuit says

A man in South Carolina has blamed Zaxby’s after he reportedly contracted hepatitis A after a drive-thru order earlier this year.

Thomas Flowers said he purchased a meal from Zaxby’s at the Tanger Outlets in North Charleston on May 22, fell ill and was ultimately diagnosed with the contagious liver disease.

He sued the fast-casual chicken restaurant chain in Charleston County on Thursday for personal injury.

“The chicken sandwich, french fries, and tea were represented to plaintiff as safe to eat,” the complaint states. “The food was not of good quality and contaminated (and) that as a result of the actions or inactions of defendants in furnishing a product that was unsafe to eat and unreasonably dangerous, plaintiff was seriously injured and damaged.”

An attorney representing Zaxby’s told McClatchy news group Tuesday that the company investigated all reports of illness related to the Tanger Outlet location and that state health officials had no reports of a guest ever contracting hepatitis A.

“Mr. Flowers’ allegations are without merit and completely unsubstantiated,” Alan Belcher said. “For months, Mr. Flowers has been uncooperative when asked by (Zaxby’s) to provide documentation that would in any way suggest that he was ever a patron of the restaurant or that he had contracted an illness as a result of consuming food from the restaurant.”

South Carolina state health officials warned of possible hepatitis A exposure at that particular Zaxby’s restaurant in June, saying in a news release an employee there tested positive for it.

Anyone who visited the restaurant between May 20 and May 23 could have been exposed, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

But officials were quick to clarify that it was not a foodborne outbreak.

“The concern here is not the restaurant,” Dr. Linda Bell, MD and state epidemiologist, said in the release. “It is with a food handler who has hepatitis A infection.”

At the time, health officials recommended any patrons who might have been exposed get vaccinated, but warned it wouldn’t prevent an infection if administered “more than 14 days after a specific exposure.”

People who have been exposed usually become sick within two to six weeks, the release states.

“Most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage,” officials said.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain or yellowing of the eyes and skin, the release states.

Flower’s lawsuit makes claims for gross negligence and strict liability after the exposure. He is seeking actual and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.

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Hayley is a Real Time reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking news and trending stories in the Carolinas. She also created the Observer’s unofficial bird beat (est. 2015) with a summer full of ornithological-related content, including a story about Barred Owls in love.