Thomas Howie filed a complaint on 18 August for “failure to maintain premises free of vermin and the negligent preparation and service of food” after he was served at an Olive Garden restaurant in Warren, Michigan. The Madison Heights resident brought the complaint to the Macomb County 16th Judicial Circuit Court and is being represented by two lawyers from Gwinn Legal PLLC - Daniel A. Gwinn and Laura Bradshaw-Tucker. According to Today’s report, Howie is asking for $25,000 for physical repercussions, “mental anguish and emotional distress.”
Speaking to The Independent, an Olive Garden spokesperson said: “We have no reason to believe there is any validity to this claim.”
The lawsuit claims the incident took place on 11 March, when Howie was out to dinner with his two friends. According to the complaint, Howie reportedly ordered the minestrone soup and breadsticks, noticing how the bowl contained “large chunks of tomatoes”. Per Today, Howie didn’t pay too much attention to the meal he was consuming until he supposedly felt “a stabbing pain in his mouth”. When he tried to swallow the bite, Howie apparently realised there was an object stuck to the inside of his right cheek.
Howie reportedly spit the food into a napkin before his friend looked to see what it was. “Mr Howie, curious, opened the napkin. He saw the leg of a rodent, hairy and clawed. He threw up,” the lawsuit read.
Howie’s complaint goes on to detail the establishment’s reaction. The customer explained how the staff allegedly denied his claim that there was a rat foot in their soup, arguing that they don’t put meat in the mixture and calling his claim “funny”. Additionally, Howie reported that the staff “did not seem to take the matter seriously.”
Following the incident, Howie contacted local officials, who showed up and filed a report. Before heading to urgent care for preventative tetanus and diphtheria shots, oral antibiotics, and a mouthwash usually given to people with gingivitis, Howie took a picture of the chewed-up bite containing the supposed rat foot.
The lawsuit described his emotional repercussions due to the incident, stating he has “become paranoid about dining at any restaurant where he cannot closely observe his food being prepared”. Furthermore, the customer said his ability to socialise has been negatviely impacted as well.
In a statement toThe Independent, the Olive Garden spokesperson outlined four main claims refuting Howie’s allegations. First, the representative pointed to the state of the alleged rat foot as seen in Howie’s photograph. “The photo of the foot shows no signs that it underwent a cooking process. Nor does it show any signs of taking on any red color consistent with the red base of Minestrone,” they said.
According to a Food Service Establishment Inspection Report handed to Today by the franchise representative, Olive Garden’s minestrone soup is usually cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit and contains: celery, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, spinach, zucchini, chopped tomatoes, beans and noodles. The file also included notes that pest control performed their routine check the same day the incident took place, and no pests were found.
The spokesperson told The Independent: “The foot is significantly larger than our soup spoons and would be difficult for someone to unknowingly insert in their mouth.”
“The health department visited the restaurant two days later based on the guest’s allegation and found ‘no evidence of rodents in the facility’. They also noted that our pest control provider serviced the restaurant on 11 March and ‘there were no pests observed in their report,’” they added.
Howie’s attorneys spoke to Today, emphasising their pursuit of this case after they tried to settle it out of court. “We tried to work this out and avoid litigation, but Olive Garden refuses to acknowledge the serious nature of the incident, the threat food contamination poses to public health, and the ongoing harm Mr. Howie is experiencing,” their statement read.
The Independent contacted Howie’s legal counsel for further statement.