Cracker Barrel was ordered by a jury to pay $9.4 million over a lawsuit involving a Tennessee patron who drank what he believed to be a glass of water, but which turned out to be a cleaning fluid called Eco-San. The jury awarded $4.3 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, according to a statement from the man’s attorney.
In an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Cracker Barrel said it was “disappointed” with the decision, and added that it “strongly disagrees” with the jury’s award. It described the case as an “unfortunate and isolated incident that occurred at one of our stores eight years ago.” The company said it is considering its options in relation to the verdict.
The award may be reduced, however, due to a $750,00 cap on damages under Tennessee law.
The incident occurred in 2014 when William Cronnon stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch in Marion County, Tennessee, and the waitress refilled his glass with what he believed to be water. Instead, it was a mixture of water and Eco-San, which is a commercial-grade bleach, attorney Thomas Greer wrote in the statement.
Cronnon went to the ER for treatment and developed gastrointestinal issues afterward, including cramping and reflux pain after meals.
According to Greer, Cracker Barrel allegedly “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.”
While Cronnon was in the ER, Cracker Barrel’s corporate office reported faxing a safety data sheet for Eco-San to the medical facility, which the attorney claimed indicated that the restaurant chain “knew immediately after the incident exactly what happened.”
Cronnon’s injuries have been severe enough that he isn’t able to work, Greer said. Cronnon’s career had been in textile factories, the statement added.