New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Jay Breakstone, Personal Injury


May 8th, 2009

How Much Is That Mouse (Or Snake Head) In My Food Worth? — Updated

You see it every so often in the news, because the media just eats up these kinds of stories: The dead animal sitting in a plate of food at the restaurant. But the dead animal at the heart of the story is not supposed to be part of the food. This time it slithers into our view with a snake head that was found under broccoli at a TGI Fridays. Who knew that TGI Fridays even had broccoli? (h/t Overlawyered)

The story’s lede is this:

The sight of a severed snake’s head under his broccoli made Jack Pendleton lose interest in dessert. Pendleton said he found the head, the size of the end of his thumb, while eating Sunday at the T.G.I. Friday’s in Clifton Park. The chain restaurant said it regrets the appetite-killing error. Pendleton said he has no plans to sue.

I almost handled one of these myself a few years ago. A complaint came in to my office of a mouse that was baked into a hamburger bun. The bun, as seen in the picture here, had obviously not been eaten. But the site revolted the potential client and, to no great surprise, caused her nightmares and loss of appetite. She was a most unhappy camper.

Not being on trial at the time, and my curiosity piqued, I had her come in, took possession of the bag of buns, and sought out an expert to examine the critter. Who to call? I started with the Museum of Natural History, then tried the Bronx Zoo, a couple of vets, and after a dozen or so phone calls, found my way to a mouse lab at a leading cancer hospital. I had myself a bona fide mouse expert.

So I sent the goods off to my mouseologist for examination.

In the meantime, I ponder what, exactly, I am to do with this case? I sent out letters to potential defendants letting them know I represent the client. No demand of any kind, just a notification of representation since they already knew about the issue, and another to the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets so that they could investigate.

Of course, that didn’t resolve the question of what, exactly, is a mouse (or a snake) in the food worth as compensation to an individual in such circumstances?

I queried some local counsel while scratching my head trying to decide what to make of this and while waiting for the expert to report back, appellate lawyer and wordsmith Jay Breakstone responded. With poetry:

A full mouse, I think,
Is not so distinct,
I seem to have seen,
One here in my sink.

But half a mouse, well,
That’s a mouse not so full,
Yet better than that,
It’s quite actionable.

A full mouse, I fear,
Is just not so rare,
Despite the view of,
A tail and some hair.

But half a mouse asks,
Where the other half is,
And that’s the mouse half,
Where a lawsuit might live.

And then my mouseologist got back to me with the results. She did this after taking photographs, cuts, and firing up the old x-ray machine to make sure. And as you can see from this last photo, it wasn’t a mouse. It’s a funny looking burn of the bread. The potential client, who had been sick to her stomach over this even though she hadn’t eaten any, was relieved. Letters immediately went out to those I’d previously contacted letting them know that the goods were good.

But the snake head at TGI Friday’s appears to be real, and so the question is clear: Where is the rest of the snake? Now this is not really an intellectual question for the customer who found it under his broccoli, because the response of getting sick to your stomach over something like this is a visceral reaction based on emotion.

In the article, the customer said he had no intention of hiring a lawyer. A perfectly logical first reaction for someone who would likely want to shake off the event and forget about it. As quickly as possible. But this is also part of the story:

When he started to eat his broccoli, he saw something gray on the plate he at first thought was a mushroom. “I start to turn it over. I see this gray-green patch,” he said.

Next he saw a V-shape that turned out to be the mouth of a snake. “I could see these black, rotted eye sockets on the top,” he said. The severed head also had bits of tendon and part of the spine attached, he said.

If the nightmares come and a loss of appetite ensues, that decision not to hire counsel could easily change. And that is because many traumas affect our intellects and our emotions in very different ways.

Update: According to The Consumerist, which first broke the story, the snake head was not cooked with the broccoli, which seems to indicate something malevolent by either an employee or a customer.

Related: “Gross-Out” Food Stories – Cases We Do Not Take, But They Sure Catch Your Eye (Food Poison Blog)

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