Lawsuits Claim Steak House Poison Exposure Gave Workers Parkinson's Disease

One after another, former employees of the South Florida restaurant chain were diagnosed with the debilitating neurological condition, the lawsuits allege.
Half a dozen claimants are alleging they developed a severe neurological condition from pesticide exposure at various Chuck's Steak House locations.
Half a dozen claimants are alleging they developed a severe neurological condition from pesticide exposure at various Chuck's Steak House locations. Stock photo by Filippo Bacci/GettyImages
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Six former employees of Chuck's Steak House say they developed Parkinson's disease from exposure to pesticides at the now-shuttered eatery's South Florida restaurants, which allegedly had a habit of fumigating before staff wrapped up their shifts.

The claims are outlined in a string of Broward County lawsuits that allege the restaurants "regularly fumigated... while employees were still inside during nightly closing operations." Staff would find pesticide remnants on kitchen surfaces and smell the chemicals in the air when they returned the day after pest control applications, according to the complaints.

Several of the former Chuck's workers had no family history of Parkinson's disease, the lawsuits claim. Two of them were allegedly diagnosed before the age of 50, an early onset that's unusual for Parkinson's, a disabling neurological condition that causes tremors, immobility, and muscular stiffness that worsen over time.

The plaintiffs include former Chuck's manager Richard Naylor, who worked for the restaurant for more than 40 years until the restaurant's last chain closed in August 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. He says he received his Parkinson's diagnosis in 2005 at age 49 while he was still employed by the steak house.

The claimants are represented by attorney Christopher Rover at the law firm of Krupnick Campbell.

"It's not like they had any awareness of this issue at the time. They were just doing their jobs," Rover tells New Times. "Naylor started to contact other people who used to work there and found out that seven people who worked at Chuck's had Parkinson's. Some of them have it very bad and have difficulty speaking."

The law firm is aiming to track down which specific pesticides were used at the restaurants so the plaintiffs can bring claims against the chemicals' manufacturers.

Among the plaintiffs are a server who worked for Chuck's from 1985 to 1995 and a bartender-waitress who worked for the restaurant for roughly seventeen years beginning in 1981. The six plaintiffs were diagnosed with Parkinson's between 2005 and 2020, according to the pleadings.

"Obviously this is a very unfortunate thing," Rover says. "They needed a voice."

Daniel O'Brien, a musician who played at the Chuck's Steak House location on 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale for about nine years, says he was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2012 at age 58. He says that when he spoke with Naylor between December 2021 and early 2022, he learned of the cluster of former employees afflicted with the disease.

"It was then that Mr. O'Brien realized his long-term exposure to pesticides while working at Chuck's had likely caused his Parkinson's disease," O'Brien's lawsuit alleges.

A seventh former employee who suffers from the disease is not participating in the litigation, Rover says.

Though the plaintiffs were diagnosed years ago (in some instances outside the four-year statute of limitations), they maintain the legal deadline for their cases' filing should be calculated from the moment when they realized their neurological conditions were allegedly caused by the workplace pesticide exposure.

The sole defendant in the case as of September 5 is Pestco Pest Control Inc., a local commercial pest control outfit that allegedly serviced Chuck's locations. The company and its counsel have not responded to requests for comment.

Rover says Chuck's Steak House and its former owner are not currently listed as defendants because the former employees no longer have remedies available to them under workers compensation law. New Times was unable to reach the restaurant's former owner for comment.

Though the lawsuits have yet to pinpoint what chemicals were applied in the Chuck's restaurants, some studies have identified a potential link between certain pesticides and Parkinson's disease.

A report published in May by researchers from Harvard University and University of California-Los Angeles identified ten pesticides that "significantly damaged neurons implicated in the development of Parkinson's disease."

"The death of these neurons is a hallmark of Parkinson's," reads a press release about the study.

A meta-analysis of 19 studies published between 1989 and 1999 found pesticide exposure was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

The first Chuck's Steak House opened in 1974 at the Southeast 17th Street location in Fort Lauderdale before the restaurant expanded to Plantation, Boca Raton, and its other Fort Lauderdale outpost on Commercial Boulevard.

The Chuck's on Commercial Boulevard was the last remaining location until its closing in 2020.
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