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Fig & Olive is denying responsibility and pointing a finger at a third party following a salmonella outbreak linked to its D.C. and West Hollywood restaurants in early September.

In a court document responding to a complaint filed by local salmonella victim Laura Donahue, Fig & Olive “denies the allegations of negligence and breach of duty.” The New York chain says that any injuries or damages were “due to the acts or omissions of a third party over which this defendant had no control.” The third party is not named.

The D.C. Department of Health has confirmed 34 cases of salmonella and interviewed an addition 209 Fig & Olive diners who reported getting sick. So far, four local salmonella victims have sued the restaurant, and their lawyers say they have dozens more lawsuits lined up.

Seattle-based food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represents Donahue, says answers in cases like these typically throw in every possible denial. But he says it’s still “clear as anything” that the outbreak happened at Fig & Olive. “Exactly what the food product is may be up for dispute, but that doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for having a fecal pathogen in their food,” he says.

Even if there is hypothetically a third party who supplied Fig & Olive with salmonella-tainted ingredients, Marler says it won’t change his lawsuits. It would, however, potentially give Fig & Olive a claim against that third party. Marler explains that restaurants are considered “manufacturers” of a food product and therefore have an “absolute duty” to to make sure that their products are safe. “If food has a fecal pathogen in it, it’s a defective product,” he says.

Marler compares it to a car with a defective ignition switch. The ignition switch may have been have made by some third party in another city, but the car company is responsible because it put the vehicle together and added the defective ignition switch.

“Same thing here,” Marler says. “People went to Fig & Olive to eat food and some of them ate defective food that had poop in it. And so Fig & Olive is responsible for that despite what boilerplate answer they might give.”

Read last week’s cover story about the fallout from the salmonella outbreak here.

Hat tip to the National Law Journal’s Zoe Tillman for first noting Fig & Olive’s answer to complaint. 

Photo by Darrow Montgomery