Seeking legal help for a broken tooth in a hotel restaurant...

by Jeffrey
(Centerville, MA)

I was lecturing at a conference in Reston, VA. While eating dinner Saturday evening I began to eat my main course after a salad course. The meal was a duck dish with a candied plum sauce. Taking my first bite, I realized the sauce was so sticky and tacky that it stuck to my teeth and almost bonded them together.

The texture was like sugary taffy that was hardening. As I tried to move the food to the center of my mouth in an effort to spit it out, my front crown was pulled off its post. I never realized this at the time because of the awkward texture of the food.

I accidentally swallowed the crown but did not realize it at the time. I thought I was simply swallowing the hardened candied substance.

Upon realizing my tooth had been pulled off, I searched the plate for the crown. Realizing I had swallowed it, I immediately left the restaurant (in the hotel) in an effort to try and vomit the crown. I was unable to do so.

Frustrated, upset, and in disbelief I was immediately under duress since I was due to lecture at 7:30 in the morning. My efforts from that point were to try and find an emergency dentist to replace the crown. This was approximately 10:00 p.m. My girlfriend who was with me was still in the restaurant explaining what happened to the staff.

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Per my girlfriend:

After Jeffrey left the restaurant distraught, I began going through his plate of food to try to recover his crown. I noticed the very hard, sticky pieces of what was suppose to be a glaze. I described it to the waiter as “Jolly Rancher candy consistency", very hard and sticky.

He gave me the check. I had eaten only a bite of my meal at that point, but he gave me the full bill. I paid it and rushed to our hotel room.

Jeffrey was able to secure an emergency dentist in the area soon after and we took a taxi to his office to have the crown replaced. We were at his office until after midnight having the crown fitted and replaced.

When we returned to the hotel and Jeffrey went to the room. I stopped at the restaurant and asked to speak with the manager. Ashley, the manager on duty came to speak with me. I explained that we had just returned from the dentist and told her how I had gone through his meal when the incident occurred.

She told me that she, herself had done the same thing and agreed that the glaze had been improperly prepared. She stated that it was very sticky and hard, and she apologized for the situation.

I gave her the invoice from the dentist and asked her to get it to the appropriate party for reimbursement. She said someone would get back to me the next day. No one contacted me. Again, I stopped at restaurant the next day, however no manager was on duty to speak with me at that time. I left a message and asked for a return call.

We checked out Sunday morning with no contact from the restaurant. I called after returning to our home and left another message for a return call. The food and beverage manager got in touch with me a day later. He was pleasant and apologetic and gave me a claim number and told me we would be reimbursed from their insurance company.

I was contacted by the insurance company and told a different story. Initially, they offered to pay half of the bill. We declined the offer. After days of "haggling" back and forth with the insurance carrier agent, she said her investigation revealed no liability on the restaurant's part of the food preparation. She forwarded an email denying the claim.

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Back to Jeffrey:

I placed four phone calls and two emails after this denial to the insurance adjuster without response. She finally returned the fifth call upon stating I would seek legal counsel if I didn't get any communication. After many missed calls, we finally spoke.

She stated that her insurance carrier is a general liability carrier and is not responsible for the incident. She stated that the dish was prepared perfectly and that many patrons have consumed it without incident. She stated that I seek solution of the matter as a public service issue with the hotel. I said I disagreed with her conclusions and would seek counsel in the matter.

From the time the crown has come off I experienced a great deal of pain in the tooth as well as the gum region. There was and still is sensitivity to hot and cold liquids and air. The bite is also distorted. I do not feel this is a reflection of the dentist, as I feel he did very good work under challenging circumstances.

I am unsure at this time whether I will need additional work on the tooth. I hesitate to incur additional costs at this time as I feel the insurance carrier is uncooperative. I am seeking counsel in an effort to best find a solution to resolve this matter. Do I have a case? What can I do about this?

Thank you for any information you can give.

Visitor Question:
Disclaimer: Information provided in our response is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Under no circumstances should the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Our response does NOT create an attorney-client relationship. Always get a formal case review from a licensed attorney in your area.

ANSWER for "Seeking legal help for a broken tooth in a hotel restaurant...":

Jeffrey (Centerville, MA):

It appears the crown was loosened and removed by the sauce. That's the good news. The bad news is you will have an uphill battle proving the restaurant's liability. From the facts you present, you did everything right. You made immediate notification to the restaurant's manager Ashley. You explained what happened, and you submitted the dental bill.

Soon after you received a claim number from the food and beverage manager. You then contacted the insurance company.

Unfortunately, everything seemed to have gone downhill from there. Second guessing your decision not to accept the insurance company's initial offer to settle for half of the dental bill would be unproductive. However, there are a couple of issues you might have considered earlier.

While you know the crown was displaced by the sticky sauce, there is no proof that's what actually occurred.

There were apparently many others at the dinner that evening eating the same sauce. It appears you may have been the only one to have lost a crown or sustained any other dental injury. According to the manager Ashley, ".....the dish was prepared perfectly and many patrons have consumed it without incident."

Unfortunately, you have no viable way of proving the sauce was the direct and proximate cause of losing the crown. The insurance company will argue the crown could have been loosened before the dinner. You have no way or proving otherwise. The crown could have been loosened over a period of time by eating other meals.

You might consider contacting the insurance company again and asking them to pay half the dental bill. Before doing so, do whatever you can to speak with others who were at the dinner. See if any of them suffered a dental problem that night after consuming the sauce.

If you can find one or more persons who also had problems after eating the sauce, get their written statements and send copies to the insurance company right away. Doing so can be very important in persuading the insurance company you were not the only one who was injured. After doing so, if the insurance company still refuses to offer you any amount for your troubles, you will be in a precarious position.

Because of the relative minimal amount of the dental bill, you will likely not be able to find an attorney who will accept the case based on a contingency fee. Instead, you would likely have to pay an attorney by the hour to pursue your claim. That would quickly cost more than the dental bill.

To help you decide whether or not you need an attorney, read this article and this one.

You can file a lawsuit against the restaurant in small claims court. In the State of Massachusetts, the small claims court jurisdictional (maximum) amount you can sue for is $7,000.00. For more information about Massachusetts small claims court and filing requirements go to the Attorney General's website.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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