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Jury Gives Deli a $431,000 Bill for Tainted Takeout

Courts: Studio City restaurant is ordered to pay a minimum of $10,000 to each of 19 plaintiffs who got sick after eating its food.

May 10, 1998|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nineteen people, including a former NBC creative executive and crew members from the TV show "Frasier," have been awarded $431,000 by a jury, which concluded that Jerry's Famous Deli in Studio City sent them contaminated turkey takeout that sickened them with salmonella.

Lawyers had asked for as much as $1.5 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, medical costs and lost wages. Included in that figure was a minimum of $25,000 per plaintiff sought by the attorneys, who argued that Jerry's food made their clients seriously and violently ill in August 1994.

In their verdict Thursday, jurors trimmed those amounts to a minimum of $10,000 per plaintiff but granted $86,000 to a former NBC intern who testified that she suffered serious and recurring health problems.

"We're real pleased that justice was done," said Howard K. Alperin, who represented the plaintiffs with his partner, Mark E. Fingerman.

During the two-week trial, Jerry's defense attorneys contended that the food was not contaminated when it left the restaurant and suggested that the plaintiffs' illness could have occurred as a result of eating food left out too long.

"We normally sell thousands of pounds of turkey every week throughout the chain," Guy Starkman, vice president of operations at Jerry's, said in an interview. "We do the same thing, day in and day out, with no problems. I think 20 million meals served over the past 10 years speaks for itself."

Some of the illnesses were reported by people who attended a catered event at NBC studios in Burbank, where the crew and cast of "Frasier" were filming promotional shots. Other plaintiffs had attended a child's birthday party and brought food from Jerry's to a nearby bowling alley. Within a day or two, those sickened had symptoms including stomach cramps, chills, dehydration, muscle aches, high fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

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