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Tuesday 15 October 2019

Woman drops compo claim against Supermac's over 'thumbtack in chips' after video footage emerges

Supermac's founder Pat McDonagh. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Supermac's founder Pat McDonagh. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Supermac's founder Pat McDonagh has slammed the personal injury system in Ireland, accusing the judiciary of "letting the whole country down" in handling exaggerated claims.

He hit out at a "flawed" legal system where barristers "encourage you to settle on the steps of court if a certain judge is assigned to your case".

"It's a terrible state of affairs when you have a barrister telling you if you go before one judge you might have a chance but if you get another judge, he's known as Santa Claus and your best bet is to settle the case beforehand," he said.

"There's no justice and there's no consistency."

Mr McDonagh's comments follow the recent withdrawal of a claim against the popular fast-food outlet.

A woman - who claimed she suffered "possible PTSD" and stopped eating in restaurants after she allegedly found a thumbtack in her chips - dropped a personal injuries case against Supermac's after footage emerged of her dining in a hotel.

She took legal action after eating in the Carrick-on-Suir branch in February 2016.

The woman alleged she bought a portion of chips and was in the course of eating when she bit into a thumbtack that was embedded in a chip.

In her affidavit, she said she felt a sharp pain in her left jaw and suffered nightmares following the incident.

She claimed she stopped eating in restaurants and became anxious about her children possibly swallowing a thumbtack.

She proceeded to Tipperary Circuit Court but withdrew the case last week after the defence declared it had video footage of her eating a carvery at the Carraig Hotel in Carrick-on-Suir in October 2017 - over two months before she swore an affidavit claiming she could no longer eat in restaurants.

The particulars of the affidavit stated: "She continued to attend her general practitioner in relation to her anxiety and nervousness.

"She was diagnosed with possible PTSD and was referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

"Her symptoms are ongoing and she reserves the right to furnish particulars of personal injury and loss in advance of the trial of action."

She accused Supermac's of being guilty of negligence and breach of duty by:

- Causing, allowing or permitting a thumbtack to become embedded or stuck in one of its chips;

- Serving a portion of chips to the plaintiff which included a chip in which a thumbtack embedded;

- Failing to have a system in place to prevent foreign objects from getting into its product at the production or preparation stage;

- Exposing the plaintiff to a foreseeable risk of injury.

Supermac's denied all liability and refused to settle the case.

The woman's solicitors did not respond to queries from the Irish Independent about why she withdrew her claim.

Mr McDonagh said business owners are constantly up against it and called on the Government to show some "political will" to intervene.

"It's not a fair system and it's not a system you can rely on," he said.

"The fall guy ends up being the business or the customer. Insurance companies, the legal profession, engineers and all that, they're all kind of working together and the only one that loses out is the taxpayer.

"The whole system is flawed and very difficult to beat."

Mr McDonagh admits there are genuine injuries but he believes exaggerated claims are closing businesses down and leading to a hike in premiums.

The self-made businessman previously defended the decision to install cameras in the bathrooms of a number of its stores around the country.

Supermac's released a clip of CCTV footage taken at a branch showing a man splashing water on the floor of the bathroom and then staging a slip.

The video was shared on the Supermac's Facebook page with the question: "Do you know this man? We'd like to speak to him".

According to a Supermac's spokesperson, the man in question approached the restaurant counter that day, complaining that he had fallen as a result of the wet floor and that his phone was broken, and he required compensation for same immediately.

The employee contacted his area manager who in turn called the gardai but the man left the store before the authorities arrived.

Mr McDonagh said that the purpose of having CCTV in the bathrooms is to prevent such a claim from taking place.

"We are safeguarding our own business. The camera is never in a compromising position. There is absolutely no fear of anyone's privacy being violated. The videotapes are there to act as a deterrent."

Neil McDonnell, CEO of Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), said business owners are being faced with an impossible burden.

"Cases are becoming exceptionally difficult to defend because with decisions lately you only have to be on someone's premises and liability kicks in. It's not a case of proving negligence any more, something just needs to happen," he said.

"These are extremely difficult cases when someone is making an allegation as effectively the burden of proof is totally reversed. The judiciary is excessively pro-plaintiff. Costs were used as a weapon to force people into settling."

Irish Independent

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