Cracker Barrel has been ordered to pay a customer $9.4m after he was served a glass of cleaning chemicals instead of water.
A jury in Tennessee awarded William Cronnon the damages after the incident at the company’s restaurant in Marion County in April 2014.
Court documents stated that Mr Cronnon had taken a sip of what he believed was water, “only to immediately realize that it was not ice water but was some chemical that caused a burning sensation in his mouth and esophagus.”
It was later discovered that he had been served a glass containing the chemical Eco-San, which was being used for cleaning the soda machine.
A lawsuit filed by Mr Cronnon stated that the corrosive chemical caused him permanent and serious internal injuries to his mouth and esophagus.
“Cracker Barrel’s negligence didn’t just cause (my client) physical harm; it took away part of his identity,” said Mr Cronnon’s lawyer Thomas Greer.
“The jury returned a verdict for compensatory damages of $4.3 million in just 30 minutes — one of the fastest verdicts we have ever seen — and awarded punitive damages of $5 million after only 10 minutes of additional deliberation.”
During trial the company denied knowing what chemical had been served to Mr Cronnon, but his lawyers said that when he went to hospital the company’s corporate office sent over the product’s Safety Data Sheet.
The jury’s award of $4.3m in compensatory damages will be capped by Tennessee law at $1.5m, with an additional $5m in punitive damages, for a total payout of $6.5m.
“The speed of the verdict, combined with an amount in excess of what we asked, speaks to just how dangerous the Cracker Barrel policy was,” added Mr Greer.
Cracker Barrel said it was “disappointed” with the award.
“While we have great respect for the legal process, we are obviously disappointed by and strongly disagree with the jury’s award in this case, which involved an unfortunate and isolated incident that occurred at one of our stores eight years ago,” the company said in a statement.
“Although we are considering our options with respect to this verdict, we are glad this matter is behind us so we can better focus on caring for our guests and employees around the country.”