A sip of beer leads to a burned esophagus. And a $750,000 verdict.

This is a terrifying story. Richard Washart was dining at the McCormick & Schmicks restaurant in Atlantic City and ordered a beer with his meal. He took the first sip of his beer and things went to hell. Washart immediately began to experience a severe burning pain. He ran to to the bathroom where he became intensely ill. Severe pain in his mouth and throat made it impossible for him to even drink any water. Then he began to vomit blood. He was rushed to a local hospital where severe burns to his esophagus and stomach were diagnosed. A doctor allegedly told him that typically, patients with similar burns usually die. Washart was hospitalized for six days. Tests revealed his beer had been tainted with caustic cleaning chemicals.

Washart sued McCormick & Schmidt. Kramer Beverage Co.[“Kramer”] – the company that serviced the restaurant beer lines – was also involved in the trial. The article I saw didn’t explain if Kramer was sued directly by Washart or brought into the case by the restaurant. Kramer denied having any personnel at the restaurant on the day that Washart became ill.

After trial a New Jersey jury awarded Washart, a former police officer, $750,000. The jury apportioned fault equally between the two McCormick & Schmick and Kramer.

McCormick & Schmick’s lawyer, Steve Scheinthal was not pleased by the verdict. “There is a problem in America today when you can do nothing wrong but still be found liable for the action of another.” Scheinthal has vowed the restaurant will appeal. Scheinthal’s remarks suggest that the tainted beer was a direct result of something Kramer did or failed to do when treating the beer line[s]. If so, how is that just one beer drinker was impacted? If there had been some sort of global failure by Kramer, one would expect multiple lines to be compromised – meaning lots of bad beer. And lots of sick beer drinkers. But there was no mention of anyone else becoming ill.

Perhaps restaurant personnel, after seeing Washart become ill, immediately terminated beer sales so other diners weren’t put at risk. But it seems unlikely that restaurant staff would be able to properly identify the problem so quickly.

Try not to think about this story the next time you order a beer.