A woman has been awarded more than $1m in damages after a fast-food chain served her hot chips laced with a corrosive cleaning agent.
The incident happened in May 2013 when plaintiff Karis Pringle, who was 26-years-old at the time, along with her nine-year-old son Kayne, picked up dinner from the Bunbury Chicken Treat outlet, about 175km south of Perth.
While eating the chips on the way home, she noted they had an odd taste, and caused a tingling sensation.
She contacted the store and was told the chips had been contaminated with a “mild cleaning agent,” according to the Western Australian District Court decision.
Chicken Treat Bunbury as seen on Google Street View.
She was advised to wash her mouth out, but a subsequent call to the restaurant had staff urging Ms Pringle to present at hospital, with the discovery caustic soda had been sprinkled on chips instead of salt.
Ms Pringle and her son went to Bunbury Regional Hospital, but the woman had to be flown to Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital after she began vomiting, with blistering to her mouth and caustic burns to her upper gastrointestinal tract.
She and her son were among 11 people overall affected by the restaurant’s mix-up.
The District Court heard, in Ms Pringle’s civil action against Tabloid Pty Ltd, which operates the Bunbury Chicken Treat store, that her subsequent injuries and deteriorating mental health have cost her her “zest for life.”
Ms Tingle still experiences a “tingle” in her mouth whenever she eats anything hot, cold, or salty, describing it as being like putting her tongue “on the end of a Nokia charger … it gives you a zap.”
She can now only eat bland foods, and only drinks water, which means she can also no longer eat out, unable to trust anyone else to prepare her meals, and generally has difficulty in trusting others, turning down an invitation to attend her sister’s wedding in Italy due to her fears.
The chips had been found to have been laced with caustic soda, also known as lye, a caustic cleaning agent which had been mistaken for salt.
The injuries also rendered her unable to work; Ms Pringle took a redundancy from her workplace in 2015 and although she continued to look for work, she was unsuccessful.
Handing down her decision, Judge Belinda Londsdale found Ms Pringle “physically capable of work” but “psychologically she has not been capable of working since she was made redundant”.
She found Ms Pringle “likely suffered PTSD because of the incident, “ and that her “symptoms have largely remained despite the effluxion of time, although she has learned to manage them, to some extent, with lifestyle changes”.
Ms Pringle was awarded $1,126,045.39, including $449,312.00 in lost earning capacity, and $350,000 in future economic loss.
Tabloid Pty Ltd still has the option to appeal the decision.
Chicken Treat predominantly operates in WA, with 60 restaurants there, although there are two in operation in New South Wales.