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Red Lobster Injury Case Headed for April Trial

(CN) - A Red Lobster customer who suffered ceramic shards in his eyes from a plate that a waiter dropped can present evidence on his eye surgeries, a federal judge ruled.

The accident occurred during a lunch date between Darryl Clark and his friend, Sibbia Wise, at a Red Lobster in Lawrenceville, N.J., on June 24, 2009.

As waiter Stephen Harrison approached, he dropped a ceramic plate of lobster pizza, which fell about 12 inches and shattered onto the tabletop in front of Clark.

The patron and waiter soon realized that something had lodged into Clark's eyes.

Rinsing failed to remedy the pain, and Clark went to the emergency room at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

Though the hospital exam allegedly revealed a scleral corneal abrasion, Clark was otherwise normal.

Though three different eye specialists later found no evidence of Clark having granuloma (immune cell buildup), caruncle (inflammation of the pink inner corner of his eye), or cataracts, Clark received three cornea-repair surgeries in 2010.

Dr. Iftikhar Chaudhry, the surgeon who performed these operations, said 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 2011.

In a 2012 deposition, Chaudhry, that Clark "definitely had a foreign body granuloma on his left caruncle" that was "presumed to be glass" and removed on April 30, 2010.

Chaudhry also said that "the cataracts were related to [plaintiff's] initial injury and were possibly traumatic in nature. I cannot verify this since I never saw the patient prior to the injury and I do not know if there is any pre-existing cataract formation."

He testified last year that the object "felt like a hard piece of glass."

U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson held the defendants liable for the incident last January.

With the parties headed to trial next month, Red Lobster moved to bar evidence of Clark's surgeries, arguing that a pathologist proved that the evidence is "unrelated to the incident" and "has no medical basis."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert denied the motion March 7.

"The details of the pathologist's examination of the tissue are not presented, simply his conclusion that no glass was present," Arpert wrote. "At the same time, as plaintiff notes, '[n]o one disputes that glass was imbedded in Mr. Clark's eye as a result of the incident.'

"Under the circumstances, defendant's motion to bar evidence of the April 30, 2010 surgery is denied," the judge added. "While certainly fodder for argument, the pathology report alone is insufficient to sustain defendant's motion."

The court also tossed aside testimony from Red Lobster's expert, Dr. Stephen Ellis, that "there is virtually no chance" that Clark's surgeries were related to the restaurant incident.

"Nonetheless, plaintiff notes, Dr. Ellis confirmed that none of the physicians who examined plaintiff after the incident observed the presence of cataracts," Arpert wrote. "The absence of any cataracts in the three months immediately following the incident would appear to contradict the possibility of a preexisting condition and support the conclusion of plaintiff's expert, that the cataracts were traumatic in nature.

"Again, this is fertile ground for argument but insufficient grounds exist to preclude this aspect of Dr. Chaudhry's testimony," the judge added.

The parties reached an agreement on whether to bar evidence related to the costs of Clark's surgeries, and trial is slated to start on April 22, according to the ruling.

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