SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The attorney for a woman who nearly died after unknowingly drinking tea laced with a chemical cleaning compound at a Utah restaurant said Thursday an employee at the eatery burned herself a month earlier on the same substance.
Family lawyer Paxton Guymon's comments came at a news conference that also was attended by the burned woman's husband, who said she is recovering but suffering from nightmares as she relives the incident.
Guymon said he learned about the previous burn during his investigation into what led to the tea incident at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan, a Salt Lake City suburb.
He said the Dickey's employee burned her tongue July 5 after she stuck her finger in a sugar container to test if it had any of the chemical cleaner. She then licked her finger.
The worker's tongue started bleeding and blisters formed, Guymon said. She still is not back to normal.
"To me it means that the company was on notice that there was a hazardous substance that wasn't properly labeled, that wasn't properly controlled," the attorney said. "And that things should have and could have been done to prevent my client, Mrs. Harding, from being injured."
The employee quit her job at the restaurant Aug. 9, the day before 67-year-old Jan Harding of Sandy took a sip of the sweetened iced tea and suffered deep burns in her upper esophagus, Guymon said.
Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants Inc. issued a statement last week that what happened to Harding was an isolated incident and nothing like it had happened in the 73 years the Dallas-based chain has operated. The company did not immediately comment on the new allegations.
The chemical first got in the container when a different employee trying to top off the sugar bucket poured in the cleaning product, thinking it was sugar. The product looks like sugar but is meant for degreasing deep fryers and contains the odorless chemical lye.
On Aug. 10, a restaurant employee put six scoops from the container of poisoned sugar into the iced-tea dispenser, Guymon said. Jan Harding poured her drink from the dispenser later that day.
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