Blue Hawaii! Two say restaurant got them sick

They wanted a taste of Asia, but two customers of a Westchester Square restaurant were served a potentially deadly liver virus, a new lawsuit claims.

David Cohen, a 42-year-old from New Jersey, and 25-year-old Bronx resident Anthony Loreto Jr., both say they became sick in September 2013 after dining at New Hawaii Sea Restaurant in August of that year, according to papers filed by lawyer Bill Marler on June 9 in Bronx Supreme Court.

Cohen claims he visited New Hawaii for a surprise birthday party on Aug. 10 and started feeling symptoms on Sept. 8, the suit charges. The volunteer firefighter experienced abdomen pain, a 103-degree fever, and a swollen liver, before being diagnosed with hepatitis A days later.

Loreto Jr. experienced similar symptoms after eating take-out from New Hawaii on Aug. 11. His order included a spicy tuna roll, pan-fried wontons, Hawaii steak and lo mein, court papers state.

The victims have not said how much money they are seeking for damages, but their lawyer claims the going rate for hep-A is $100,000 per person to cover medical bills, loss of wages, and physical and emotional distress.

“These gentlemen basically had the worst flu you could ever imagine, and then had it for two or three months,” said Marler.

Hepatitis A is normally not life-threatening, but Marler said that New Hawaii was lucky that none of the alleged poisoned victims needed a liver transplant.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said.

Panic last fall

The Department of Health closed the restaurant on Sept. 19, 2013, after five of the eatery’s patrons and one worker were diagnosed with the liver virus.

Hepatitis A is spread by eating food that has been contaminated by traces of fecal matter from someone infected with the virus. A source close to the investigation told the Times-Reporter in September that the culprit in this case was one of the restaurant’s waiters.

Those contaminated feel the first symptoms anywhere from 15 to 50 days later, according to the Health Department. There is no cure once the virus sets in, but getting a vaccine within 14 days of exposure can combat the disease’s onset.

Lines around block

Health officials urged anyone who ate at the restaurant from Sept.7 to Sept. 19 to get vaccinated for Hepatitis A.

Nearly 2,800 customers then heeded city’s warning, lining up for hours for free vaccinations at Lehman High School. The line often snaked around the block.

The restaurant was cleared to reopen Sept. 21, 2013 after the city examined the restaurant and vaccinated its workers.

The once neighborhood institution re-branded itself two months later as Kai, an Asian fusion eatery that opened that December.

Owners of the former New Hawaii Sea Restaurant could not be reached for comment.

More legal tussels

The two lawsuits filed this month are not the only legal action taken against the restaurant.

Another class-action lawsuit was filed against the eatery in September claimed smaller damages for the inconvenience of waiting in hours-long lines that stretched around the block at Lehman High School.

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at bkochman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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