Elizabeth Bernardi is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages from Los Burritos Mexicanos, a Lombard restaurant that was closed last week by the DuPage County Health Department, which is investigating the outbreak that sent a half-dozen people to the hospital.
Health Department spokesman Jason Gerwig said this week there are nine confirmed cases linked to E. coli and eight more that probably are connected.
Six of the nine confirmed cases left people hospitalized, but all have been released, he said.
According to a statement from the county Health Department, some of the illnesses were caused by bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, which causes diarrhea, often bloody. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop severe disease, including a form of kidney failure.
Although the restaurant has been closed, Gerwig said it doesn't mean the restaurant or its employees are at fault.
According to the lawsuit filed in DuPage County Circuit Court, Bernardi, 43, was hospitalized for five days after she ate a steak taco from the restaurant.
"It's certainly worth more than $50,000," said Drew Falkenstein, an attorney representing Bernardi.
Bernardi said she and her husband, Maurice, had ordered take-out food from the restaurant. She said the family had patronized the business about twice a month over the past 20 years.
She said she ate the steak taco, but her husband did not. She said she became ill three days later with a 101-degree temperature, vomiting, pain, a distended stomach and diarrhea.
"I never knew how devastating E. coli was. It was awful," she said. "It was pure poison. It was shutting my system down. I could see the progression."
Bernardi, a mother of six and small business owner, said the illness was worse than anything she had previously experienced including child birth and appendicitis.
"It shut my body down like nobody's business," she said.
Marco Arteaga, manager of the Lombard restaurant, could not be reached Thursday for comment. He previously said the restaurant and employees are cooperating fully with the investigation, and that he does not believe the restaurant is to blame for the outbreak.
The restaurant, which has been in business since 1991, had not been cited for any health violations in the last five years, according to county records, Gerwig said. The county does not have records that go back more than five years, he said.
If the investigation shows the restaurant had no part in the outbreak, Falkenstein said the suit will be dismissed.
The suit includes Bernardi's husband who also seeks a separate $50,000.
"That (illness) affects the husband-wife relationship in a lot of ways," Falkenstein said.
The DuPage County Health Department receives about 10 reports of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli a year, according to department officials.