Cracker Barrel has been ordered to pay millions to a man who says he suffered serious, long-term injuries after he was served what he thought was a glass of water.
He got a mouthful of chemicals instead, his attorney said.
A jury awarded $4.3 million to William Cronnon of Tennessee last week after it found the “old country store” was at fault for serving him sanitizing solution that was left in a water pitcher in 2014, WTVC reported.
The verdict includes $730,000 in economic damages and $3.6 million in non-economic damages, according to the ruling obtained by the news station. However, Cronnon could only see about $750,000 because of a Tennessee law that limits civil damages.
“This is an unfair law that only affects people who are seriously injured,” Cronnon’s attorney Thomas Greer told WTVC. “And so he will not even receive what he’s entitled to.”
Jurors also awarded Cronnon punitive damages of $5 million in what Greer called “one of the fastest verdicts we have ever seen.”
The original lawsuit sought $150,000 in damages from Cracker Barrel.
“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,” Greer wrote in a blog post.
Cronnon filed a complaint in April 2014 after he was served “water” from an unmarked pitcher while he ate lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Marion County, which is west of Chattanooga. What he sipped turned out to be a mixture of water and Eco-San, a commercial grade bleach the restaurant used as a kitchen cleaner, his attorney said.
“Cracker Barrel servers regularly used unmarked water pitchers to mix water and Eco-San together, and then soaked parts of the soda machine in that mixture in order to clean them,” Greer wrote in a blog post.
The mix-up landed Cronnon in the ER with injuries to his mouth and esophagus, Greer told CNN. “Negligence” on the part of the restaurant not only caused physical harm, Greer said, but cost Cronnon “part of his identity.”
Cracker Barrel responded to the verdict in a statement, calling the mishap with Cronnon “an unfortunate and isolated incident.”
“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,” a company spokesperson told McClatchy News 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.”
The restaurant chain said its policy has always been to never leave chemicals in unmarked containers.