Posted with permission from International Business Times

A man from Seaville, New Jersey, who suffered severe burns after drinking tainted beer at a casino in Atlantic City was awarded $750,000 by a jury on Friday, according to reports.

Former Ocean City Police Lieutenant Richard Washart claimed his esophagus and stomach were burned after he was served beer tainted with the caustic agent used to clean beer tap lines at McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant located at Harrah’s casino.

Beer can turn caustic and harmful when the lines that are used to dispense them are cleaned by such agents and are not rinsed or sterilized properly. According to the Brewer’s Handbook, which provides a guide to brewing the beverage, caustic agents are widely used to clean tap lines. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH), commonly known as caustic soda, is one of the most widely used caustic agents worldwide. Its effectiveness in dissolving fatty oils among other things makes it the preferred agent for cleaning sludge off the bottoms of boilers and for cleaning beer kegs. Other effective caustic agents include sodium hydroxide mixtures.

However, according to Damien Sleath, Quality and Compliance Manager at Technical Textile Services Limited (a textile manufacturer based in the United Kingdom), and an expert in chemical hygiene, brewing and beverage industries, all the beer line cleaners are considered dangerous. Caustic cleaners cause burns to the skin as they contain high levels of sodium or potassium hydroxide that can taint the beer when the taps are not cleaned and sterilized after cleaning.  These agents can also cause blindness if they get into your eyes, and can cause external injuries or internal as in the case of Washart.

Suing McCormick & Schmick’s, Washart claimed he felt a burning pain as soon as he took a gulp of the beer he was served. He faced a round of projectile vomiting after running to the restroom. When he tried to drink water from the faucet, he was unable to do so, because of the pain in his mouth and throat, he stated. Later, he sought a doctor, who said it was rare for a patient to survive such severe burns to the esophagus and stomach. The incident took place in November 2012, and Washart was hospitalized for six days at the time, the Associated Press (AP) reported. 

Washart’s attorney Paul D’Amato said his client was awarded $650,000 for pain and suffering and $100,000 for emotional distress. Harrah’s, which was not a defendant in Washart’s lawsuit, blamed a company that was hired to clean its beer lines, Kramer Beverage Co., of Hammonton. However, the company denied being at the restaurant on the day Washart drank the caustic beer.

D’Amato blamed Kramer Beverage saying it did not follow industry recommendations to check the beer lines after they were cleaned using pH testing strips and added the restaurant violated New Jersey’s Adulterated Food Act by serving the tainted brew.

Co-defendant and the restaurant’s parent company, Landry’s Inc., insisted it had done nothing wrong and said it will appeal the ruling. In a statement reported by AP, Steve Scheinthal, general counsel for Landry’s, said: “There is a problem in America today when you can do nothing wrong but still be found liable for the action of another.” He added that Kramer Beverage “obviously made a mistake, which resulted in Mr. Washart’s claims."