A lunch order more than three years ago in Mobile would change Robert Farroll’s life forever.
The Pensacola man was recently awarded $1.6 million from O’Charley’s after a Mobile County Circuit Court jury determined the 1-inch piece of glass he swallowed — resulting in $116,000 in medical bills and about six months away from work — came from the pot pie he ordered at the popular chain restaurant.
The Farrolls and some family members went to the O’Charley’s on Schillinger Road on Feb. 9, 2014, following their granddaughter’s gymnastic competition, Farroll’s attorney Randall Caldwell said.
While eating the pot pie he ordered, Farroll felt something sharp get stuck in his throat, Caldwell said.
The now 60-year-old began to choke. His wife and son noticed, but the object eventually went down, Caldwell said.
“At which point he told them he thought he swallowed a chicken bone,” Caldwell said. “He didn’t think anything about it.”
Other than losing his appetite, Farroll seemed to feel fine, Caldwell said. But Farroll began to feel sick the Wednesday following the incident. By Thursday, Caldwell said, the illness got bad enough that his wife, Cathy, a registered nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, told her husband to go to the emergency room. It was Feb. 14, 2014, Caldwell said.
A computerized tomography (CT) scan showed Robert Farroll had a perforated bowel and a “dense object” was present in his small intestine, Caldwell said.
Doctors at the hospital decided at that point to do surgery. A trauma surgeon made an 8-inch incision — from 4 inches above his bellybutton to 4 inches below it. Caldwell said the surgeon had to remove a section of Farroll’s small intestine that had become necrotic, or dead.
While the section of intestines removed was not large enough to make reattachment impossible, Caldwell said, to ward off infection the surgeon had to install an ileostomy bag, which is similar to a colostomy bag only attached in a different spot.
“He spent four days in the hospital after the first surgery,” Caldwell said. “He spent three months with the [ileostomy] bag. … He had a second surgery in May 2014 to reverse the ileostomy and reattach the intestines.”
From Feb. 14 until the end of 2014, Farroll made a total of 15 trips to the hospital related to the incident, Caldwell said. These visits include the two surgeries and 13 additional visits.
“In total, his medical bills were in excess of $116,000,” Caldwell said. “He missed five to six months of work with Gulf Power in Cantonment [Florida].”
Caldwell said Farroll’s diet changed as a result of the incident. For instance, he is discouraged from eating fried foods and must take in a lot more fluids.
Caldwell said the defense questioned where the pink-tinted soda-lime glass originated. In an email message, O’Charley’s released a statement, saying it would appeal the ruling.
“We respect the judicial process but respectfully disagree with the ruling and expect to file an appeal soon,” the statement read.
Cathy Farroll is a stained glass artist in her spare time, Caldwell said, and the defense claimed since there is no light pink glass in the restaurant, the piece at the center of the case had to have come from the Farroll residence.
Despite two glass experts being called to testify, Caldwell said the question about where exactly the glass came from could not be answered.
“No one in the case can tell you where this glass came from,” Caldwell said. “They don’t know.”
Because the pot pies are only assembled at O’Charley’s, Caldwell said he originally added a number of suppliers to the lawsuit, but they were removed because the case against them hadn’t been proven.
In testimony, Caldwell said, the trauma surgeon told the jury that based on the infection and necrosis, Farroll would have had to ingest the glass at least three days before the initial surgery occurred. He had surgery about four days after eating at the restaurant, Caldwell said.
The size of the glass shard also benefited Farroll’s case, as Caldwell said it would’ve been impossible to swallow it and not know it. The testimony of Cathy Farroll and the Farrolls’ son was also helpful on this point, Caldwell said.
After a “very, very long deliberation in a civil case,” the jury awarded Robert Farroll $1.5 million in compensatory damages. Cathy Farroll was awarded $100,000.