Maine Jury Sides with Wendy’s

August 6, 2006

A federal jury in Portland, Maine deliberated about 30 minutes before ruling in favor of Wendy’s restaurant chain in a lawsuit filed by a Standish woman who claimed a Wendy’s hamburger made her violently ill.

Diane Roney, 57, was hospitalized for 12 days in 2001 after eating two bites of a bacon cheeseburger at a Wendy’s in Saco. Her lawyer said she was sickened by E. coli bacteria and could have died.

Wendy’s claimed that Roney’s illness had nothing to do with the food, and that her symptoms were not consistent with E. coli infection.

Attorney Joshua Vincent, who represented Ohio-based Wendy’s, told jurors that Roney’s medical records showed evidence that her illness was caused by a possible enzyme deficiency that may also have hospitalized her nine months earlier.

The verdict came 16 months after a Las Vegas woman claimed that she had found a human finger in a bowl of chili served in a Wendy’s restaurant in California. The claim was later exposed as a hoax, and the woman was sentenced to nine years in prison for extortion. Her husband was sentenced to more than 12 years for his role.

Roney sued Wendy’s in U.S. District Court for $83,000 in medical expenses, lost wages and additional damages. Her husband sought money for loss of companionship and support from his wife.

During the trial, Roney testified that the pain was so severe she was convinced she was dying and asked the hospital staff to instruct her husband to cremate her body.

Roney’s lawyer, Michael Waxman, in closing arguments portrayed Wendy’s as a heartless corporation, sparing no expense to discredit his client and distract the jury from the facts with a slick video and a team of highly paid, out-of-state expert witnesses.

He said Roney’s physician of five years, Owen Pickus of Westbrook, was more credible than Wendy’s three out-of-state expert witnesses. Pickus testified that Roney’s symptoms were consistent with E.coli.

“I didn’t have to reach out to Massachusetts,” Waxman said.

Waxman challenged the jury to deliver a verdict in five minutes if they did not believe Roney’s claims.

Bob Bertini, Wendy’s spokesman, said the quick verdict speaks for itself.

“We feel our food safety procedures have been validated,” he said.

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