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First Lawsuit Filed Against Chipotle After E. Coli Outbreak

A Washington woman claims she fell ill after eating at a Chipotle in Vancouver, Ore.

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As a result of an investigation into a recent E. coli outbreak apparently stemming from Chipotle, the fast-casual chain has already voluntarily shuttered 43 of its locations in Washington and Oregon. Its share prices are plummeting, "erasing about half a billion dollars from its market value," according to the Boston Globe. Now the company faces its first lawsuit from an alleged victim.

Charmaine Mode, 41, of Washington, is suing Chipotle for negligence, alleging she became infected after she ate a burrito bowl at a Vancouver restaurant. WIVB in Washington reports that Mode is "asking for $75,000 to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages resulting from the infection."

Recent Yelp reviews have torn apart the 7715 NE 5th Ave. location, likely the business named in the lawsuit. "The store was dirty (crumbs on tables, trash on floor), the pepper was missing, the salt shaker was crusted with grease (?)," reads one. "Dirty tables and overflowing garbage are something we encounter often as well," complains another. "Don't waste your time ordering online to-go unless you like cold food that's been sitting for 15 minutes in a fast food type heater fridge," yet another advises.

There are at least 22 confirmed E. coli infections in Washington and Oregon so far.

This is Chipotle's third outbreak of foodborne illness in the past few months, including cases of Salmonella and Norovirus. There are at least 22 confirmed E. coli infections in Washington and Oregon so far and health officials are still "aggressively searching for more cases and are trying to find out what the restaurants connected with the outbreak have in common," MySuncoast notes.

Washington state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist isn't certain "that the outbreak is limited to people who ate at Chipotle restaurants over the past few weeks," he told the Associated Press, as "two people among the 22 cases have told health officials they do not believe they ate at a Chipotle restaurant."

Whether or not Chipotle is ultimately (or solely) at fault, though, analysts foresee problems for its health-friendly image. The Associated Press heard as much from Allen Adamson of New York marketing consultancy BrandSimple, who "says people have many fast food options and if they are worried about the safety of food they will avoid a chain until they're certain the problem has been resolved." And attorney Bill Marler said "three cases of foodborne illness in a few months shows Chipotle is not paying attention to food safety like it should."