(CN) - Red Lobster is liable after a waiter dropped a plate, lodging ceramic shards into the eyes of a customer, a federal judge ruled.
Darryl Clark and his friend Sibbia Wise went to lunch at a Red Lobster restaurant in Lawrenceville, N.J., on June 24, 2009.
While bringing them a lobster pizza, waiter Stephen Harrison dropped the ceramic plate, and it crashed about 12 inches below onto the tabletop in front of Clark, breaking into several pieces.
Clark and Harrison soon realized that something had lodged in Clark's eyes.
After eyewash proved unsuccessful, police and paramedics arrived at the restaurant.
Clark has since received medical treatment, including surgery to repair damaged corneas, from Dr. Iftikhar Chaudhry, who stated that Clark's injuries were "directly related" to the Red Lobster incident.
Clark sued Darden Restaurants Inc., Red Lobster Inc. and GMRI Inc. for negligence in the District of New Jersey.
He moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability only, and U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson concluded Monday that the defendants had been negligent.
Red Lobster failed to show that Clark is not credible because of his criminal history.
Wolfson also brushed aside the restaurant's claim that Harrison did not violate any standard of care by accidentally dropping a plate.
"Defendants' argument is circular and unavailing; the very crux of this case is whether Harrison's 'accident' was the result of negligence," the 11-page opinion states.
Harrison and Red Lobster failed to provide due care to Clark, Wolfson added.
"Harrison testified in deposition that the plate felt 'a little slippery' and 'a little greasy,'" the ruling states. "Moreover, Harrison also testified that he had only dropped objects less than ten times in his five years of experience as a server - and he had never dropped a plate on a table or ever seen another server drop something on a patron's table. Simply put, Harrison's testimony demonstrates that it is significantly more probable than not that the plate fell from his hands due to some failure to exercise due care on his part or the part of the defendants."
Red Lobster missed the point further in emphasizing that the plate broke into only three or four pieces, without shattering or splintering, the court found.
"The mere fact that the plate broke into several large pieces does not preclude the existence of smaller slivers or fragments," Wolfson wrote. "Again, defendants have proffered no evidence to suggest that plaintiff's eye injuries were the result of anything other than the broken plate, and thus defendants' arguments fail to raise a genuine issue of material fact surrounding the cause of plaintiff's injuries."
Clark's demand for damages remains unresolved.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.