In August 2014, a 67-year-old woman was enjoying her lunch at Dickey’s Barbecue restaurant close to Salt Lake City, Utah. She filled up her glass with sweet tea and after taking just one sip of her drink she was severely burned, complaining to her husband the moment she drank it that she thought she just “drank acid.” The woman was rushed to the hospital where she spent several weeks fighting for her life due to severe burns in her esophagus, throat, and mouth.
After the investigation was complete, it was determined that the woman drank sweet tea contaminated with lye, which is a highly caustic industrial cleaner that is used to degrease. It was believed that an employee accidentally used lye, which is stored in powder form, as sugar and mixed it into the sweet tea.
Because an employee was suspected of delivering the fatal substance to the customer, is the employee or the restaurant liable for the woman’s injuries? Determining liability comes down to negligence, determining who was negligent and thus caused the injury.
In this particular instance, the employee should have used reasonable care when preparing food and drinks for the restaurant patrons. By mistaking lye for sugar, and then using the caustic substance in a drink prepared for diners, the employee is liable for damages caused, even if it was an accident.
Read more about negligence in the food industry by reading Intentionally Mislabeled Seafood Could Harm Florida Consumers.
There are instances where employers can be held liable for the actions of their employee. In this particular situation, the Dickey’s Barbecue restaurant may be held liable for the employee’s negligence, especially because the employee was acting within their assigned duties. And, because the owners of the restaurant failed to store this dangerous chemical in a safe place and did not properly train staff on labeling or identifying lye, they could be held liable in court.
Burn injuries, whether from chemicals or flames, can cause serious, long-term injuries. In the case of the lye, this woman could have long-term trouble with her esophagus and stomach lining, including irreversible tears. Luckily the woman was able to recover from her injuries and she survived, but had she not, the family would have also had a potential wrongful death suit.
It is the responsibility of restaurants and their employees to take extra care while serving the public. By not doing so, tragedies can occur.
If you or a loved one was injured due to a chemical or flame burn, you have the right to adequate settlement. Contact the law team at Fetterman & Associates, PA today for a free case consultation. Schedule your appointment by calling 561-845-2510.
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