Calif. man sues Claim Jumper over condom in soup

SANTA ANA Calif. An Orange County, Calif., man filed a personal injury lawsuit this week against Claim Jumper Enterprises Inc., contending he found a used condom in his French onion soup at a Mission Viejo, Calif., unit of the chain.

In the lawsuit filed July 21 in California Superior Court for Orange County, Philip Hodousek and his wife Sherry are seeking damages from the April 12 incident, saying they have suffered distress and anxiety stemming from the fear of having contracted a sexually transmitted disease, as well as “loss of consortium.”

The case involving the 46-unit casual-dining chain is the latest of several product-tampering incidents at restaurants to make headlines in the past several years, including the well-publicized finger found in a bowl of Wendy’s chili and, more recently, a snake’s head found in a broccoli dish at T.G.I. Friday’s.

In a statement posted on the company’s website, Claim Jumper officials say they have found no evidence to support any of Hodousek’s claims. “We do not believe Mr. Hodousek’s lawsuit has any merit and will fight this allegation,” the company said.

The company’s own investigation, as well as one by an independent investigator, found no wrongdoing by employees, the company said.

The plaintiff had the object tested by an independent lab, and preliminary results found both male and female DNA, according to the lawsuit. Claim Jumper, however, said because Hodousek took the object with him when he left the restaurant that night, “we could not establish that this was the same object the lab received.”

Claim Jumper also noted that female employees voluntarily agreed to submit DNA to see if there was any match. The company asked Hodousek to also take a DNA test, the statement said, but he failed to appear for the appointment, then filed the lawsuit the next day.

The lawsuit, however, said that Claim Jumper failed to provide an observer for the DNA tests scheduled, so they could not be performed.

According to the Orange County Register, Hodousek owes nearly $300,000 in state and federal taxes and penalties, but he said the debt had nothing to do with the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for Claim Jumper said Hodousek’s confirmation of the debt to the newspaper “clearly points to his potential motive for claiming he found a foreign object in his food.”

Other chains also have found themselves involved in product-tampering incidents in recent years.

In May, the Carrollton, Texas-based parent to the T.G.I. Friday’s chain sought a criminal investigation into a customer’s claims that he found a severed snake’s head in his broccoli side dish after an independent lab determined the head had never been cooked.

Domino’s Pizza Inc. this week reported that a viral video earlier this year of employees doing what officials called “inappropriate handling of food” had an “abrupt and pretty measurable” impact on sales. The employees were fired and prosecuted, and the company collected $2 million in business disruption insurance.

In 2006, Anna Ayala was sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud charges after filing a lawsuit against Wendy’s claiming that she had found a severed finger in her chili, a lie that caused the chain to lose millions in revenue.

In 2004, a lawsuit filed against the seafood chain McCormick & Schmick’s was reportedly settled after an Orange County woman claimed to have found a condom in her clam chowder. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected] [3]