AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — According to documents filed in Potter County District Court Friday morning, an Amarillo resident has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church after an outbreak of salmonella that was believed to be linked to enchilada meals served at the church in late March.

Amannett Jennings, an Amarillo resident, filed a lawsuit Friday in Potter County against both the diocese and the church, claiming that both entities could have done more to prevent the spread of salmonella and the entities could have done more in warning residents who purchased the food of the risk of salmonella.

How did this begin?

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, this salmonella outbreak, which was investigated by both the city of Amarillo’s Environmental Health Department and its Public Health Department, was connected with an enchilada meal at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on March 27.

At the time, the environmental health department encouraged people to throw away any leftovers and for those experiencing symptoms to see their primary care doctor.

Salmonella bacteria, according to court documents, is transmitted to humans who eat foods that are contaminated with “animal feces.” Officials said in the documents that contaminated food “usually look and smell normal,” with the customer potentially not knowing that the food they have consumed has been contaminated. Symptoms include vomiting, fever, stomach pain, dehydration and fatigue.

At the time, the church and the diocese released a joint statement, which said the following:

We have learned this week that several individuals got sick with food poisoning after eating take-out enchilada dinners sponsored by St. Joseph’s Parish of Amarillo. We are very concerned about the safety of all of those affected. St. Joseph’s immediately reached out to the Health Department and the Diocese of Amarillo is working with our insurance carrier.

The Health Department is investigating and unfortunately it will be ten days before they will have the analysis on the foodborne pathogen. We know you are experiencing medical expenses and we intend to set up a procedure where you can bring in your expenses. We hope to be able in a few days to let you know what that procedure will be and where it will be.

ST. JOSEPH’S PARISH AND THE DIOCESE OF AMARILLO

What did the documents say?

According to the court documents, officials claim that further testing from the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that both the rice and the beans served during the March 27 meal tested positive for salmonella. More than 140 people are believed to have been infected with salmonella stemming from this meal, one of which is reported to have died.

“Indications are that the contamination may have been due to cross-contamination in the kitchen, where multiple church members were congregated during the preparation and serving of the food, this according to multiple photos and media posts related to the fundraiser,” the documents read.

Specifically to Jennings, the court documents read that Jennings checked into a local emergency room after she had come down with symptoms of salmonellosis. She was discharged on April 10 and documents state that she continued to recover over the next weeks.

The documents said that the church, along with the diocese, should have warned of the potential of salmonella within the food served, saying that because they did not, the products that were being served were “unreasonably dangerous,” causing “potentially hazardous or life-threatening conditions with respect to the food products.”

The documents listed a number of ways that both the entitles alleged “breached its duties,” including

  • Negligently manufacturing, distributing and marketing the products
  • Failing to properly test the products before placing them into the stream of commerce
  • Failing to prevent human, insect and/or animal feces from coming into contact with the products
  • Failing to adequately monitor the safety and sanitary conditions of their premises
  • Failing to take reasonable measures to prevent the transmission of salmonella bacteria and related filth and adulteration from its premises
  • Failing to warn (Jennings) and the general public of the dangerous propensities of the products, particularly that they were contaminated with salmonella despite knowing or having reason to know such dangers.

“All dangers associated with the contaminated products were reasonably foreseeable and/or scientifically discoverable by (the diocese and the church) at the time (the entities) placed the products into the stream of commerce,” the documents read.

Through her legal team, Jennings is requesting that this lawsuit be settled with a trial by jury. The damages Jennings is seeking include damages for past and future:

  • Lost earnings
  • Property damage
  • Medical costs
  • Pharmaceutical and hospital expenses
  • Mental anguish
  • Attorneys’ fees
  • Pre-judgment and post judgment interest
  • Costs of court

Jennings is also seeking gross negligence and exemplary damages as well as treble damages under the “deceptive trade practices act.”

How have officials responded to this lawsuit?

Ron Simon, the attorney for Jennings in this litigation, provided the following statement to MyHighPlains.com, saying:

“We have been informed that the Diocese has already been in contact with its insurance company. We recommend that those who became ill seek legal representation to advocate on their behalf with the insurance company, and to make sure they get everything to which they are entitled.”

Ron Simon, Food Safety Attorney

In a statement given to MyHighPlains.com, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo said they have not yet seen the lawsuit and have no comment.

This story is developing.