Lebanon mans sues Campbellsville Taco Bell, awarded more than $300,000

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Steven L. Farmer found a metal hook inside one of his burritos

By Calen McKinney

A Lebanon man has been awarded more than $300,000 by a Taylor County jury after he found a metal hook in food he purchased at Taco Bell in Campbellsville.

In April 2007, Lebanon attorney James L. Avritt Jr. filed a complaint in Taylor Circuit Court on behalf of Steven L. Farmer against TB of America Inc., Larry Fugate and Fugate Enterprises.

According to court records, Farmer purchased two burritos from Taco Bell in Campbellsville on May 31, 2006, and, while taking a bite, found a metal s-shaped hook inside one of them. Farmer's complaint states that he returned the burrito to the restaurant and saw Taco Bell employees laughing at him.

Farmer claimed his teeth were chipped by the hook and he sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as court costs and attorney's fees.

According to court records, Fugate and Fugate Enterprises own and operate the local Taco Bell restaurant.

On May 10, 2007, Somerset attorney John T. Pruitt Jr. filed an answer to Farmer's complaint on behalf of the three defendants, stating that Farmer himself caused the damages he suffered. They asked that the complaint be dismissed and they receive court costs and attorney's fees.

In January of this year, Pruitt filed a motion, which Taylor Circuit Court Judge Allan Bertram later denied, asking that TB of America Inc. be dismissed from the case because it claims it does not own the local Taco Bell store.

In his pretrial statement, Pruitt stated that Farmer intended to have witnesses testify that Taco Bell employees intentionally placed the hook inside his food.

The defendants offered Farmer a $20,000 settlement nearly two weeks before the trial was set to begin, which he declined.

On Tuesday, Avritt said he and Farmer believed the settlement offer was "grossly inadequate" and did not award any punitive damages for the way Taco Bell handled Farmer's complaint.

Avritt said Taco Bell employees and management failed to follow the company's procedures for handling complaints, and no one was reprimanded for the incident.

Farmer's case was heard by a Taylor County jury on Feb. 23 and 24 before Bertram.

After hearing testimony, the jury ruled that the Taco Bell employees should have known that the hook was inside Farmer's burrito.

Avritt said he felt there was strong evidence in Farmer's case to prove that the Taco Bell employees had purposely placed the hook in his food.

After seeing the size of the hook, which is with the burrito in a freezer in the Taylor Circuit Clerk's office, he believes others would agree.

"There is no way that this hook got in there accidentally," he said.

The jury awarded Farmer $3,860 in past medical expenses, $25,000 in future medical expenses, $35,000 for suffering, $860 for loss of income, $3,000 for future loss of income and $250,000 in damages. Farmer was awarded a total of $317,720, in addition to court costs and interest.

Avritt said he and Farmer are pleased with the jury's decision.

"There was no accountability in this case," he said. "There was no investigation."

He said he believes the jury's award for damages is evidence of their agreement that the hook was intentionally placed in his food.

Avritt said Farmer has had two root canals and crowns placed on his teeth to repair the damage caused by the hook. He said the root canals weren't successful and Farmer will soon have to undergo more treatment and is still in pain, almost three years after the incident.

Pruitt referred comment on the verdict to an insurance carrier in the case, Liberty Mutual. Adrianne Kaufmann, a Liberty Mutual representative, declined to comment, citing the company's policy to not comment on litigation.