Salon Sued Over Customer's Death

Kimberly Kay Jackson loved getting pedicures each month, especially with bright pink nail polish, although as a paraplegic she couldn't feel the massages and bubbling water on her feet.

But after her heel was cut with a pumice stone during a July pedicure, she developed an oozing wound that wouldn't heal despite repeated rounds of antibiotics, relatives said. The 46-year-old died in February of a heart attack triggered by a staph infection, said the family's attorney, Steven C. Laird.

Now, her three teenage children are suing Angel Nails and its owner for unspecified damages. The lawsuit, filed last week, claims the Fort Worth salon did not follow state regulations for disinfecting the whirlpool and instruments.

"This stupid pedicure killed her," David Lee Jackson, her ex-husband, said through tears. The couple reconciled in 2001, about five years after their divorce. "She was afraid she was going to lose her foot. ... Who would've thought this would take her life?"

Salon owner Dinh Cong Tran declined comment.

Angel Nails is being investigated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which started overseeing nail salons in September after the Texas Cosmetology Commission dissolved, said department spokesman Patrick Schaughnessy.

Besides the Jackson case, there have been no other allegations the past eight months that a customer died from an infection contracted at a nail salon, Schaughnessy said.

The Chicago-based National Cosmetology Association has not received reports of any deaths stemming from salon visits, said spokeswoman Vi Nelson, adding that sanitary problems are reported in a small percentage of the 250,000 licensed salons nationwide.

Texas has nearly 26,400 licensed salons that offer nail-care services. Since September, the licensing department has received 883 complaints against such salons or owners and is investigating 719. Of those, 81 salons have been penalized with fines or orders to improve sanitation practices, Schaughnessy said.

Earlier this month, a Dallas salon owner was fined $4,000 for cleanliness violations after four customers contracted bacterial infections. Tien Jim Nguyen, owner of Beverly Hills Nails University, and his employees were ordered to take a health course, and Nguyen agreed to reimburse the customers for their salon services and more than $1,200 in medical expenses.

In 2004, prompted by a Dallas County probe, the cosmetology commission issued new statewide regulations for whirlpool foot spas, including washing basins with disinfectants after each pedicure; flushing basins for 10 minutes at the end of each day; soaking them with bleach overnight every two weeks; and keeping a log of cleaning procedures.

Customers should be cautious, examine the salon and make sure instruments the employees use are new or sterilized, said Jennifer Davis, a former president of the now-defunct Texas Cosmetology Association.

"If it's not clean and shiny like at the dentist's office, don't stay. Play it safe," said Davis, a licensed cosmetologist in Texas for 36 years. "I think people don't realize how easily diseases spread."