AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The legal team representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo and St. Joseph Catholic Church have responded to a lawsuit in Potter County which claimed that both entities could have done more to prevent the spread of salmonella during a March 2022 meal at the church.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the city of Amarillo’s Environmental Health Department and the Public Health Department investigated a Salmonella outbreak connected with an enchilada meal at St. Joseph Catholic Church on March 27, 2022. At the time of the event, the church and the diocese issued a statement that they had learned that individuals got sick with food poisoning after eating the dinners at the event and reached out to the health department in response.
Amannett Jennings, an Amarillo resident, and attendee of the event, then filed a lawsuit against the church and the diocese in Potter County in July, stating that both entities could have done more in warning attendees of the event who purchased the food of the salmonella risk. Jennings also alleged that more could have been done to prevent the spread of salmonella, stating that the cross-contamination occurred in the kitchen during the event.
According to the original petition filed in July, officials claimed that testing from the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that both the rice and the beans served during the meal tested positive for salmonella, with more than 140 being believed to have been infected with the pathogen. Jennings is seeking the following damages, as well as gross negligence and exemplary damages, along with treble damages under the “deceptive trade practices act:”
- Lost earnings
- Property damage
- Medical costs
- Pharmaceutical and hospital expenses
- Mental anguish
- Attorneys’ fees
- Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest
- Costs of court
The legal team for the church and the diocese responded to the claims outlined in Jennings’s petition. According to documents filed in Potter County District Court on Jan. 23, the entities generally denied the claims made in the petition, specifying that the plaintiff’s recovery of medical expenses should be restricted to the amount “actually paid or incurred by or on behalf of (the) Plaintiff.”
The response also claims that the “standards for assessing exemplary damages in this case are unconstitutionally vague and allow the jury to assess exemplary damages based upon criteria wholly unrelated to (the) Defendant’s conduct and completely beyond the control of (the) Defendant.” The defendants also claim that an award of exemplary damages “under the facts and circumstances of this case, would violate the excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment and due process clauses of the Texas Constitution.”
Overall, the defendants are requesting that the plaintiff be ordered to replead in this case and that they take nothing “by reason of (the) suit” and that the defendants be “discharged from all liability and recover their costs…”
In additional documents from the defendant, filed in Potter County District Court on Feb. 21, the diocese and the church are asking the court to abate the overall suit, claiming that Jennings’s legal team “failed to comply with all statutory prerequisites to filing a suit” under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Officials said in the plea that the state requires plaintiffs to send written notice 60 days before lawsuits are filed under the act, approximating the amount of damages claimed in the process. Officials go on to say that the notice must describe the specific complaint and the amount of economic damages, the damages for mental anguish along with attorneys’ fees, if any.
“However, that written notice is not required in two scenarios,” the plea reads, “(including) if filing suit is necessary to prevent expiration of the statute of limitations, making it impracticable to provide 60-day notice, or if the plaintiff’s DTPA claim is asserted as a counterclaim.”
The defendants allege that by not providing notice, Jennings did not give the defendants the opportunity to “engage in early settlement.” They also went on to say that Jennings did not meet the definitions for the exceptions defined.
“For these reasons, the Court should grant this motion and abate this suit because Ms. Jennings did not provide the Defendants with the required 60-day written notice prior to filing her DTPA claim,” the document read.
This is a developing story. MyHighPlains.com will update this article as new information becomes available.
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