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Mother sues Chipotle over son’s bout of norovirus

A worker cleaned the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Cleveland Circle after the restaurant was ordered closed amid a norovirus outbreak.
A worker cleaned the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Cleveland Circle after the restaurant was ordered closed amid a norovirus outbreak.(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

The mother of a 16-year-old Brookline boy who fell ill after eating at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Cleveland Circle sued the restaurant in Norfolk Superior Court on Thursday, seeking damages for days of illness.

The legal action by Andrea C. Dow, mother of Alexander Keough, is the first in a likely string of lawsuits related to the norovirus outbreak at Chipotle. About 140 people, most of them Boston College students, suffered nausea and vomiting after eating there during the first weekend of December.

“Chipotle needs to be held responsible for what happened,” said Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer leading the case. He said he has been in touch with several BC students, and expects to file more suits after they return from their holiday break.

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Although young, healthy teenagers and college students are unlikely to suffer lasting harm from norovirus, Marler said, the suits “send a pretty clear message that . . . this is not something that should have happened.”

The city ordered the Cleveland Circle Chipotle closed Dec. 7, after an inspection found three major violations, including an employee who had come to work sick and failure to adequately heat chicken and beef. The restaurant has not reopened.

Asked to comment on Dow’s suit, Chris Arnold, communications director for the Denver-based restaurant chain, wrote in an e-mail, “As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on pending legal action. But I will note in incidents like this, we make it a priority to work with customers who have been impacted to resolve these issues.”

Dow, a lawyer who is serving as local counsel in the case, said her three teenage boys — who “do sports and are often starving” — used to eat at the popular restaurant two or three times a week. She believed the offerings there were more healthful than other fast-food options. “We believed in the brand,” she said. “I feel a little duped.”

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Keough had a burrito at Chipotle on Dec. 4, and began throwing up early the next morning, Dow said in a phone interview. By about 1 p.m., Dec. 5, “he was so sick he was almost catatonic,” she said. “He was sheet white. His heart was racing.” The family took him to Boston Children’s Hospital where he was given fluids and an antinausea medicine, which cost the family a $350 copayment. Keough described the pain of norovirus as being 10 times worse than a recent bout of appendicitis, Dow said.

Dow said her son hasn’t fully recovered, suffering from lingering cramps and dizziness. A test this week confirmed the continuing presence of norovirus.

Dow’s suit alleges that Chipotle’s negligence caused her son “to suffer severe personal injuries, to suffer great pain of body and mind, to incur hospital and medical expenses, to have his education and recreational activities interrupted, and to have his ability to enjoy a normal, active, and healthy live adversely affected.” The suit seeks damages and reimbursement for medical and legal costs.

“They knew about sicknesses and didn’t take proper precautions,” Dow said, mentioning other food-borne illness cases connected with Chipotle, including a California norovirus outbreak that involved more than 200 people in August and an E. coli outbreak affecting 52 people in nine states in November.

Marler said he has lawsuits pending against Chipotle for both of those incidents, and a second E. coli outbreak and a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota.

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Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer