Maui Man Files Lawsuit After Rat Lungworm Illness
By Wendy Osher
A Maui man has filed a lawsuit against a local produce business after becoming ill with rat lungworm disease.
According to the complaint, Scott Hessler was employed as a pastry chef at a hotel in East Maui when the incident occurred in February of 2017.
The complaint states that Hessler ate a sald mix in the lunchroom at work on Feb. 25, 2017, and became nauseous two hours later.
The lawsuit alleges that the suspect produce came from Hāna Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center and private, non-profit corporation that owns Hāna Fresh.
“Through information and belief, it is alleged that Hāna Fresh was the only provider of produce to the hotel on that day,” according to the lawsuit. The complaint states that, “Hessler will testify that he remembers the produce being wrapped in newspaper,” and that “he later consumed a slug or semi-slug in his salad, and recalls something gritty in his mouth, that he went ahead and swallowed down.”
His health reportedly spiraled downward and at one point, he claims he was “practically paralyzed” and “trapped in a body of excruciating pain.” Hessler had received a definitive diagnoses of angiostrongylus or rat lungworm disease from several doctors over the course of his treatment.
Executives with Hāna Health responded to our request for comment saying that on the advice of legal counsel, they are not able to discuss the matter, but note that the company has had a slug and snail abatement program for almost 12 years, “long before rat lungworm became an issue.” Cheryl Vasconcellos, Executive Director at Hāna Health said, “We stand by our product as safe to consume.”
According to the organization’s website, “Hāna Fresh with its organic Farm, Nutrition Center and Farm Stand are cornerstones of Hāna Health’s mission for community wellness. Focusing on nutritious eating, as an important component of a healthy lifestyle, Hāna Fresh grows, prepares and markets food that supports the health and self-sufficiency of the Hāna community.”
The lawsuit alleges that “Hessler’s angiostrongylus infection caused him to incur substantial medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish, physical disability and disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.”
According to the complaint, “Hessler is asking that the case be exempt from the Court Annexed Arbitration Program, as the probable jury award value, not reduced by the issue of liability, and exclusive of attorney’s fees, interest, and costs, is in excess of $150,000.”
Court records show the case was filed by Hessler’s attorney Johnny Ray Brown on Feb. 12, 2019 and that Hessler is demanding a jury trial.