Everyone had a good laugh when news broke Wednesday that Dennis Kucinich had sued the House cafeteria after biting down on an unpitted olive in a sandwich wrap, allegedly suffering "permanent dental injuries." But here's the thing: The congressman may well have a winnable case.
That's at least according to Christopher Dolan, a San Francisco attorney who regularly deals with product liability cases. And to Dolan, some of whose clients have been grievously injured by consuming foreign objects in their food, none of this is a laughing matter.
"Everybody is getting caught up on the pit -- 'Oh, it was some little thing.' Take the word 'pit' out and put in 'sharp piece of metal.' Nobody would have a problem with suing over that. They're trying to make this about something trivial. A pit in an olive is the same thing as biting into a rock," Dolan says. (One of his clients lost three teeth after biting down on a rock in a salad. Another was burned by cleaning acid in a bottle of water.)
Furthermore, he adds, it looks like Kucinich has a real shot at collecting damages.
To review the allegations, as outlined in a suit filed in court in Washington: In April 2008, Kucinich ate a sandwich purchased at the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building. The sandwich "was represented to contain pitted olives" but in fact contained at least one unpitted olive. Kucinich bit on it and "sustained serious and permanent dental and oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures," the suit alleges. He has alleged negligence and breach of implied warranty by the operators of the cafeteria and their suppliers.
Dolan says there are two ways Kucinich could win the case:
"If he's got the label that says 'pitted olives,' and they weren't pitted, that's called an express warranty. They told him the sandwich had no pits. He didn't get what he bought, and it harmed him," Dolan says. "The other area is strict products liability. There is something wrong with the product. He didn't cause it. He had no reason to assume it was in the product. And he got injured."
Dolan also argues that the core issue here -- food safety -- is an important one. "Mr. Kucinich may be trying to make a point as a legislator: Our food must be safe. How many people died from infected peanuts? Many. How many children were given formula in China that killed them? Many. When product manufacturers do not handle or care for their products in an appropriate way, people can die. People are trivializing this because it's a pit in an olive. "
Kucinich has not publicly commented on the case.