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Wife of swine flu victim sue city over his death

The wife of the popular Jamaica middle school teacher who became the city’s first person to die of the swine flu outbreak is preparing to sue the city for failing to protect her husband from the disease.

Bonnie Wiener and her sons, Adam, Jordan and Farrell, filed a notice of claim with the city Law Department Aug. 5 saying they planned to bring a suit against the city Department of Education, the Department of Health and the city in the May 17 death of Mitchell Wiener. Wiener, 55, was a longtime assistant principal and teacher at IS 238 in Jamaica and was one of five people associated with the school who contracted the strain of the flu also known as the H1N1 virus.

His widow, also a teacher at the school, claims in the notice the city and its various agencies were negligent in handling the outbreak at the school by failing to “undertake proper safety precautions” and “disseminate accurate information” regarding the origins of the disease, according to court papers. The family is seeking $40 million in damages, the notice said.

The Wiener family and their attorney did not return phone calls for comment as of press time Tuesday evening. Although the Law Department said it was reviewing the matter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters the city “didn’t do anything wrong” in the way it handled the outbreak.

St. Francis Prep High School was the first Queens school to report large numbers of swine flu cases after many teens at the school began to report flu-like symptoms in late April. The city Health Department said 50 students and teachers were infected with H1N1, but all victims made a full recovery and after nearly 10 days of being closed for cleaning, the school reopened and students returned to classes.

Less than three weeks after the Prep incident, the city closed IS 238 at 88-15 182nd St., for more than a week after Wiener was hospitalized with the disease and several students began reporting flu-like symptoms. Dozens of students and alumni visited the school to pay tribute to Wiener following his death and held a rally outside the school May 18.

Over the next couple of weeks, dozens of public and private schools across the city began canceling classes after large numbers of students began experiencing flu-like symptoms.

At times, Bonnie Wiener was vocal against the city’s delayed response to the outbreak and said the DOE denied requests by the school’s administrators to cancel classes when they noticed the large number of absences during the outbreak.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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