Monday, January 16, 2006

Stretch suits

Ripley’s could be put out of business by the stories that surface online about lawsuits, especially the ones involving restaurants. Consider the past month’s developments:

In Camden, S.C., the survivors of a man who died from complications of salmonella poisoning sued the restaurant where he was believed to have consumed the pathogen. They also sued the manufacturer of the oven in which the contaminated food, a turkey, was roasted, alleging that it was responsible for the bird being undercooked. No word yet on any action being taken against a thermometer company.

In 2003, an employee fired by an Outback in Beaumont, TX, returned to the restaurant after it closed and shot two managers, one of whom was pregnant, and a co-owner who was taking inventory with them. All three died. Outback offered a $100,000 reward, which led to the arrest of the former employee and an accomplice, both of whom are facing extended prison terms. A few weeks ago, the managers’ families sued the restaurant, alleging it was responsible for the wrongful deaths.

But those situations are nothing compared with what the tabloids in London have dubbed the Flying Prawn Case. The Benihana teppanyaki steakhouse chain is being sued for $10 million for allegedly causing a man’s death with a flung shrimp. The 43-year-old deceased businessman had taken his son to the chain’s outlet in a suburb of New York City for the boy’s birthday. The chef at their grill-top table went into his bedazzling knife display as he cooked their meal. Part of that schtick, according to the plaintiffs, was throwing pieces of hot shrimp to the patrons, who are supposed to catch the morsels in their mouths. The knifesman-cum-shrimp-tosser was asked to cut it out, they alleged. Yet, they contend, the fish kept flying. The deceased seriously hurt his neck trying to dodge the flung food. He required surgery afterward, and ultimately died from an infection, which the family attributed to the operation.

Press reports quote Benihana officials as acknowledging that their chefs would indeed toss shrimp to patrons, a trick they alleged was forced on them by a Jackie Chan movie in which the martial-arts star does exactly that. Patrons begged Benihana’s chefs to do likewise, and they apparently obliged, though that bit of showmanship has since been discontinued, the chain executives were quoted as saying.

To the best of our knowledge, no lawsuits have been filed against Chan.

I don’t mean to make light of the very real suffering that was inflicted upon that or the other victims’ families. Each is indeed a tragedy, for which, in some instances, responsible parties should pay. I just wish the courts weren’t turned into some type of Lotto system, where the scope of who should pay is constantly being tested. There’s an common-sense element to responsibility that seems to get trampled under lawyers’ feet.

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