published Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Couple suing Steak ’n Shake after hot sauce incident

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A pastor and his wife are suing a waiter at Steak ’n Shake and the company itself after their son was hospitalized because of hot sauce he ate.

Tim and Mary Katherine Gann visited the Steak ’n Shake on Oct. 9, 2009, and the waiter offered their son, Caleb, “hot sauce,” giving him a bottle labeled Mega Death Hot Sauce that is not served by the restaurant chain, said Debbie Richman, owner of the franchise at 220 Paul Huff Parkway.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 30 by Bilbo Law Office in Bradley County Circuit Court, said the substance led to “the infliction of severe injuries to his [Caleb’s] body and permanent damages.”

The Ganns are suing for compensatory damages of $10,000 and punitive damages of $50,000.

After consuming the sauce, Caleb reacted with “flaring-up of hives on his skin, difficulty breathing and severe pain and inflammation of his digestive system including his mouth and throat,” according to the lawsuit.

The Ganns took their son from the restaurant to Skyridge Medical Center for treatment, the suit states.

The waiter did not warn anyone of the nature of the substance, and Caleb Gann put it to his chili, according to the lawsuit.

The manufacturer of Mega Death Hot Sauce — Blair’s Sauces and Snacks — claims in the product description that it “contains ingredients 500 times hotter than a jalapeno chili” and doesn’t recommend it for use without dilution.

Richman said she believes the waiter bought the sauce on a trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. She declined to name the employee but said he no longer is employed by the restaurant.

The lawsuit may be the first in history to allege a “hot-sauce injury,” wrote Matthew Heller, a writer for OnPoint legal news.

Darald Schaffer, an employee at Bilbo Law, said the office is not authorized by the Gann family to release any information on the case at this time.

Tim Gann, a pastor at Cleveland’s Prospect Church of God, declined comment.

“We’re not talking about that right now,” he said. “Our lawyer said not to talk about it at all.”

Caleb Gann and Mary Katherine Gann did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit claims the waiter “was not properly screened prior to employment and was negligently hired.”

Richman said the waiter was screened the same as every other person considered for the job.

“I’m always expecting a lawsuit,” she said. “I was not surprised. But I am surprised it also included the corporation and the waiter.

“Everything people do anymore, they want to hold other people responsible,” Richman said. “It becomes someone else’s fault.”

about Harrison Keely...

Harrison Keely is an online breaking news producer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He also anchors the daily newscast. He joined the Times Free Press as a reporter in 2010. He previously served as managing editor of the Smoky Mountain Sentinel in western North Carolina and as a business reporter for the Washington Times in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Lee University in 2009 where he served as managing editor of the student news ...

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frettfull said...

Were the parents or a guardian of that boy at the restaurant when this incident occurred? If so did it not occur to them to examine a bottle that was given to the child? Seems like "Mega Death Hot Sauce" on the label might have warranted a little investigation.

October 20, 2010 at 12:28 a.m.
mrredskin said...

$10k/50k is a good amount that Steak 'n Shake will settle for in this case. The couple was smart enough to keep it "low".

Matthew Heller needs to crawl out from his cave if he thinks this is the first lawsuit of its kind. Why do you think the vast majority of hot wing joints make you sign a waiver before you order their hottest wings?

October 20, 2010 at 7:40 a.m.
Patrick1975 said...

I'm sorry but the Parents should have cared enough to pay attention. If a server gave any of my children a bottle of hot sauce, No! Tim Gann, your a fool. Poor excuse for a minister to be suing, what is your flock not paying the bills?

October 20, 2010 at 1:44 p.m.
jayhay182 said...

I used to work at this same Steak n Shake and still have a lot of friends that do. Most of them are managers now or have moved on to other careers. I actually asked one of my friends who was working there that night in question and he said that the father asked the server about this hot sauce he was telling him about and wanted to try it. So he gave it to the father and put it on his food and the child actually took the food from his plate an ate it. I trust my friend more than I would a piece of paper written by a lawyer, especially one from Cleveland. So if the story I heard is the truth that would make the pastor look like a bad parent. It still makes him look bad if he took the hot sauce and put it on his food so his kid could get it and is now trying to cast blame on somebody else. The pastor should take responsibility. I have 3 kids and know how he would feel if something bad happened to them but blaming somebody else your bad parenting won't make it go away.

October 20, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.
violine said...

The incident happened on Oct.9, 2010 the case was filed on Sept. 30. 2010. Whats going on. Miss print. Clear it up................

October 20, 2010 at 3:53 p.m.
violine said...

Disregauard my first comment,,,,,,,,,,,,

October 20, 2010 at 4 p.m.
tnh171 said...

"Permanent damages"? Like what? Brain Injury? Pssshh.

The owner also said she is always expecting a lawsuit. Really? Is your service and employee quality THAT bad?

October 20, 2010 at 5:25 p.m.
realityrox said...

If I were a betting man, I'd bet the pastor was teaching the child the concept of hotness of hell and it backfired.

October 20, 2010 at 6:55 p.m.
joepulitzer said...

Tim Gann, a pastor at Cleveland’s Prospect Church of God, declined comment.

“We’re not talking about that right now,” he said. “Our lawyer said not to talk about it at all.”

Caleb Gann and Mary Katherine Gann did not respond to requests for comment.



October 20, 2010 at 7:45 p.m.
sunnydelight said...

I think I need to sue this paper for exposing me to this foolishness. Wonder who this guys lawyer is . I bet he'll take the case .

October 20, 2010 at 8:06 p.m.
2ndAMENDMENT said...


October 20, 2010 at 8:33 p.m.
SilenceD said...

joepulitzer, so because a lawyer told his client - mum's the word- the paper shouldn't report about it?

I like to be informed on a lot of different things, especially when lawyers don't want their clients talking.

October 20, 2010 at 9:28 p.m.
NOLAgal said...

Just wondering - is the "child" 5 or 15 years old? That would make a difference in my opinion...although I would hope someone at the table would read the label before ingesting the substance...

October 21, 2010 at 10:04 a.m.
BH said...

The Gann family is disgusting. The "minor" is a student at Bradley High School in Cleveland, TN, so clearly he is old enough to read a label and determine if the words "death", "mega", or "500 times hotter than a jalapeno" describe the right choice for him.

His parents are even more ridiculous because they are clearly the money grubbing losers behind this suit. The actual lawsuit is online, and nowhere does it describe what the "permanent damage" is to their child, but I'm guessing it's "emotional". In other words, it's a bunch of BS.

Also, a visit to a local medical center does not equal "hospitalized". Some people will seek help for a stubbed toe, while the rest of us can deal with life and know how to put a bandage on a boo boo. Ate too much hot sauce? Drink a glass of milk and get over it, you self-entitled morons.

I feel for the franchise owner, because she's the latest target of a frivolous lawsuit. I wish I could sit on that jury. I'd make sure the Gann family received nothing but a bill for wasting taxpayer dollars and time.

October 21, 2010 at 6:41 p.m.
BH said...

tnh171 said, "The owner also said she is always expecting a lawsuit. Really? Is your service and employee quality THAT bad?"

Nope, you missed the point by a long shot. All business owners expect the threat of a lawsuit because we live in a litigious society. For example, some jackarse might pour hot sauce on his food, get a belly ache, and then demand $60k for emotional damages.

October 21, 2010 at 6:52 p.m.
ahughe03 said...

No one here knows the Gann family and I am really disgusted about how many of you are so judgemental. But when you ask for sauce do you really think you should read the label after you have ate there many times before and asked for hot sauce in the past. The fact is the reporter who wrote this is an idiot because he obviously did not get the whole story and the waiter who gave the sauce to the boy is a bigger one. This is not like the 'hot coffee' incident the boy had to go to the emergency room. Besides how much did this reporter make up and how much is truth.

October 21, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.
ahughe03 said...

BH, how do you know the kid goes to Bradley High? Couldn't he go to any of the other two high schools? Do you personally know them and thats how you know they are disgusting or are you like this reporter who "adds" stuff as he goes? I'm just wondering what gives you right to say such things.

October 21, 2010 at 8:12 p.m.
sunnydelight said...

"No one here knows the Gann family and I am really disgusted about how many of you are so judgemental." Says ahughes03. How do you know that no one here knows the Gann Family/ Did you ask everyone? Sounds ot me as if you're the judgemental one here. Practice what you preach. OH! A pun . PREACH . Hummmmmmm. Pass the plate please.Money only . No hot sauce.

October 22, 2010 at 7:20 a.m.
jayhay182 said...

@ahughe03, I'm actually going to have to defend the reporter on this one. You obviously didn't read the lawsuit or the article very clearly. What the reporter wrote was exactly what was stated in the lawsuit that the Gann family had their lawyer write up. The reporter did not "make up" any part of the story. He even tried to go to Mr. Gann for his side of the story and he said no comment, which is what any lawyer would tell their client. So he had to go with what was stated in the lawsuit. They haven't named the server so they can't get his side of the story right now. And Debbie Richman really can't say anything about it either since she's also part of the lawsuit. I do agree with you on the fact that the server made a bonehead move and gave the hot sauce to the family, whoever it was, whether the father or the kid. I would like to know the age of the kid too.

I can tell you that I know Debbie Richman and almost all the managers for all the Steak n Shakes in her region. Which is about 6, no 5 after the one in Athens TN closed down recently for not enough business, it was not in a high volume area. And I know she and the managers are responsible enough to let the servers know not to serve any other kinds of food there. I can give one example that has to do with a "minister" of sorts. Phil Driscol is someone who would frequent the SnS in Cleveland a lot. He was so picky about his food that he had special instructions about how he wanted his fries cooked. He only wanted them to be dipped in the fryer for about 30 seconds instead of the full time. That way the shoestring fries would be limp and soggy instead of crispy. Don't ask me why but he sent back his fries on me about 4 times in one sitting because they were not done right. Finally after a few more visits where he demanded this the manager finally spoke up and told him that due to food and health regulations they would not be able to prepare his food the way he requested and from now on would only prepare it the way it is supposed to be per the health inspectors guidelines. Needless to say he was not happy because he was used to being given the royal treatment since he was a "traveling music minister" of sorts. And yes I can say this is true because I went to kingergarten and high school with his son. We graduated the same year from Bradley High.


October 22, 2010 at 1:42 p.m.
jayhay182 said...

Cleveland is a small town with it's own small town politics. So I can say that I know the managers and the owner but do not know this server in particular. I have heard of the Gann family before and of their lawyer. The lawyer is not one that is held up to be the moral compass there. The server should have never carried this hot sauce into work with him so he should at least take responsibility for that. So from what I know and have heard from the managers of the restaurant and the employees there this pastor and his family have blown this way out of proportion. You want to believe that a man of the cloth would do the right thing in this kind of situation but looks like even they try to make a quick buck, even if at the expense of one of their family members. But that's just my opinon.....

October 22, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.
ahughe03 said...

The truth is I do know the Gann family very well. I no longer live in TN, but when I did He was my pastor. He also helped take care of my family. He gave to me when he could not give anything himself. They are selfless. I can not speak for any minister but the ones I truely know. I have known them for many years now. I know this family and all they do is live to give to others. That is why I was so upset to read everyone's comments because if you truely knew them you would really see Christ in their life. I did speak with them and I will honor their wishes and not mention what they told me, but the story printed is not the whole story. The boy was 16 when this happened. Forgive my first post BH. I was angry that you had spoken ill of my friends. If you knew them you would stand up for them too. If you don't believe me then find them yourselves. I'm sure all your hearts will change if you met with them.

October 22, 2010 at 6:11 p.m.
Allypalally said...

As a former food service employee of ten years I can semi-understand how this lawsuit is going forward. As a server, you are required to inform people, for example, if a product contains nuts, as nut allergies are among the worst and can result in death. People HAVE been sued over exactly that. What I don't understand about this case is why the waiter didn't inform them of the potency, and why the parents and/or son didn't read the label. If it clearly stated it should only be used diluted, then why would they put it on their food as is? Should parents not be held accountable for their actions and those of their children? The parents are held accountable when a child repeatedly skips school, resulting in fines to the PARENTS. Yet, this nonsense happens and the legal system is basically saying it's ok to pass the blame onto someone else. This lawsuit is ridiculous and reminds me of several years ago when severely overweight people sued McDonald's for being obese after eating too much of their food. We need to be held responsible for our actions instead of blaming someone else when we muff up.

October 23, 2010 at 11:28 a.m.
jayhay182 said...

So you want the whole story? Well here it is. It turns out that this server in question was not even the Gann familys server. He was a server who was on his break, or was off duty. He was eating in the dining room right beside the server station but had removed his bow tie and apron. Usually the employees are required to eat in the break room but they are allowed to eat with the public if they remove their attire. I used to do that when I worked there after my shift was over. So the server brought his own hot sauce in and was eating it in his own food. The Gann family was eating across the way from him and the father noticed the hot sauce and asked the young man if he could try it. So he handed it to the father and even said that the stuff is really hot. And I think we know the rest. But I'm sure in speaking with the Gann family they didn't tell you all of that. But I'm sure you'll believe anything the pastor tells you. I think the best way to resolve this issue is called Pepto Bismol. I've never heard of a pastor sueing anybody or any company, especially for something that they should take responsibility for. It's called common sense. And if the son was 16 then he understood or could read the warning label on the bottle. But I guess it's true what they say, the nut doesn't fall too far from the tree.

October 25, 2010 at 9:37 a.m.
Gpurrs said...

The minister and his son should start praying for higher IQs, this is a very bad example of how a Christian should act. What happened to turn the other cheek? I suppose the dollar signs in his eyes made him forget about that verse. I would find a new church home if I went to this scam artist's church. I hope the members of that church will realize what kind of lowly behavior their church leader is practicing.

February 20, 2011 at 5:29 p.m.
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