RIPLEY - A Jackson County man is finding both a foreign object found in a McDonald's hash brown and the company's denial that the substance it released into his body harmed him in any way hard to swallow.
Francis W. McCauley, 79, of Ravenswood filed a lawsuit Feb. 17 against the McDonald's Corporation and one of its franchisees, Sydil Inc., in Jackson Circuit Court. In his complaint, filed with the assistance of Robert B. Allen from the Charleston law firm of Allen, Guthrie and Thomas, McCauley alleges McDonald's and Sydil took measures to conceal evidence that he was injured after biting into a foreign object lodged in a hash brown at an Ohio McDonald's 18 months ago.
According to court records, McCauley was having breakfast with friends and family at the McDonald's in Caldwell, Ohio, on Aug. 7, 2007. The county seat of Noble County, Caldwell is located 70 miles from Ravenswood.
McCauley's suit states he's a regular visitor to Caldwell. According to the Ohio Secretary of State's Web site, Sydil, the owner of the Caldwell McDonald's, was founded in 1999 by Perla L. Gonzalez and Delfino Bustos, and is located in Bethesda, Ohio, a suburb of Wheeling, W.Va.
Upon consuming the hash brown , McCauley alleges he bit into a "brown capsule" that secreted an unknown "hot liquid" into his mouth. In addition to a burning sensation, the liquid caused injury to "the areas in and around his mouth, throat, and other areas of [McCauley's] body."
Despite one employee discarding the partial eaten hash brown and the capsule, another employee retrieved them from the trash. Though records are unclear if it occurred on that day or sometime later, McCauley was informed by someone at the Caldwell McDonald's that the capsule was sent to its insurance carrier, Wausau, for "testing."
After the incident, McCauley alleges he began experiencing "sudden and unexplained medical problems." Upon informing his physicians of the hot liquid from the capsule, they said it was important to find out what substance was contained in it to determine if there was a connection to his recent ailment.
According to his lawsuit, McCauley alleges he attempted without success for the next four months to get details about the results of Wausau's testing of the capsule. Finally, on Dec. 5, 2007, McCauley says a Wausau representative, Mary Dodd, left him a voice-message informing him the test results were complete.
Other than to say Wausau was "denying liability," McCauley alleges Dodd left no information about the test results. However, through a lawsuit he filed against them in Kanawha Circuit Court on Jan. 8, 2008, McCauley learned that Wausau sent the capsule to an independent lab for testing, it was then sent to the J.D. Simplot Company which also had the capsule independently tested.
Both court records and its Web site show Simplot is a Boise, Idaho-based multi-billion dollar agribusiness that has supplied the McDonald's Corporation potato products since the mid-1960s. It is among the world's largest frozen-potato processors annually, producing over 3 billion pounds of French fries and potato-related products.
Along with McDonald's and Sydil, McCauley has named Simplot as a co-defendant in his lawsuit.
Later, McCauley received a letter from Dodd dated Dec. 5 saying that "neither laboratory found any residue on the brown capsule during testing." In his lawsuit, McCauley alleges that despite having the authority to do so, Dodd and Wausau never "offered to allow [him] or someone of his choosing to monitor any of the testing.
In his seven-count complaint, McCauley alleges all three of the defendants owed him a duty to ensure no foreign objects went into the manufacturing of the hash brown before it was served to him. Because they failed in their duty, he was offered a defective product that had the effect of inflicting emotional distress upon him.
Specifically, McCauley alleges the incident caused him "mental suffering, anguish, worry, anger, and anxiety, as well as physical manifestations of distress." Also, it has caused him a loss of consortium with is wife, Dorothy, 76, who is co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Finally, McCauley accuses, Sydil, McDonald's and Simplot of both negligent and intentional spoliation of evidence. Knowing that the capsule was necessary to prevail on his claims, McCauley alleges the defendants handled it as many times as they did "so as to completely nullify any and all opportunity [he] may have had to determine the origin of the foreign object and its contents."
He is asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Four suits in two years
McCauley's lawsuit is at least the fourth filed by a West Virginia resident in the last two years against the Oak Park, Ill.-based fast-food giant claiming issues with food preparation.
In July 2007, a lawsuit filed in Monongalia Circuit Court grabbed international headlines when Jeremy Jackson and his mother, Trella, sued McDonald's and the owner of one of its franchises in Star City bit into a Quarter Pounder hamburger containing cheese on Oct. 30, 2005. Because he was allergic to it, Jackson maintained he gave specific instructions to employees remove cheese from the hamburger.
Alleging he incurred $700 in medical expenses after being rushed to the hospital, Jackson asked for $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Less than a month after Jackson filed his suit in Monongalia County, Arden and Donna Carte filed theirs in Kanawha County. In their suit, the Cartes alleged that Arden when into anaphylactic shock on Aug. 5, 2005, after biting into a bandage "that had been negligently inserted" into his biscuit at the McDonald's in Elkview.
Carte claimed he had an allergic reaction to the latex in the bandage.
Three months later, William W. Mucklow, claimed in a lawsuit filed in Putnam Circuit Court that he chipped his tooth after biting into a hamburger at the McDonald's in Teays Valley on Nov. 25, 2005.
McCauley's case in Jackson County has been assigned to Judge David W. Nibert.
Jackson Circuit Court case number: 09-C-16