Thursday, January 13, 2005

Copyright 2005 Bergen Record Corporation
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Needle-laden sandwich injured diner, suit says; Woman seeks damages from McDonald's

On her 38th birthday, Beatriz Bermeo went to a McDonald's restaurant in West New York, ordered a crispy chicken sandwich, and took a bite.

The sandwich bit back, she said.

Bermeo said she felt a stinging pain in her throat and began frantically pointing into her mouth when her voice failed her.

Thinking she was choking, her husband, Beethoven, tried the Heimlich maneuver on her. But she was still in distress, court papers say, so he opened her mouth, found two, inch-long sewing needles inside, and pulled them out. Doctors later removed three more needles from the woman's stomach, the couple's lawyer said.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state Superior Court in Hackensack, the Bermeos are seeking an unspecified amount from McDonald's in compensatory and punitive damages.

"I have seen hair in food. I have seen worms in spaghetti sauce," said the Bermeos' lawyer, Rosemarie Arnold. "I have never seen sewing needles in a chicken sandwich."

Jossiel Rodriguez, general manager of the McDonald's on Bergenline Avenue, declined to comment Wednesday. He referred all questions to his superiors, who did not return two telephone calls.

Along with her sister, her husband, and her 2-year-old son, Fernando, Beatriz Bermeo had gone to a Mass to commemorate the first anniversary of her mother's death on Dec. 29, the same day as her birthday, she said.

The family then went to a McDonald's so that Fernando could play in the restaurant's indoor playground, her husband said. But the playground was closed, and the family sat down for a meal.

Halfway into her sandwich, she found out that there was more than just chicken in her meal, Beethoven Bermeo said.

"She was crying," he said of his wife. "I started screaming, 'Help! Call police!'"

West New York police came to the scene and took Beatriz Bermeo to Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, according to a Dec. 29 police report.

She stayed there for three days as doctors suctioned her stomach and removed more needles.

"I still have pain in my throat and chest," Beatriz Bermeo said. "I am very afraid."

Similar to product liability, selling food that is adulterated or otherwise harmful results in strict sanctions under state law. Unlike in most other liability cases, plaintiffs in such lawsuits need not prove negligence to show that the food-server is liable.

Arnold, however, argues in the lawsuit that McDonald's employees served the needle-laden sandwich purposely and intentionally.

"It seems to me that sewing needles don't get into sandwiches accidentally," she said. "Common sense would dictate that the needles were placed intentionally in the product."