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Standing Stone sued over skewer ingestion

A woman has sued Standing Stone Brewing Company for $500,000 after swallowing a fragment of wooden skewer that severely damaged her digestive system.

An attorney for the popular Ashland restaurant denies she swallowed the fragment at Standing Stone.

The lawsuit pending in Jackson County Circuit Court claims the woman ate a lamb burger at the restaurant on Dec. 1, 2014, and began to suffer pain the next day. She visited doctors from Dec. 3 until Dec. 9, 2014, when a doctor successfully diagnosed the cause of the pain and surgically removed the fragment.

The fragment caused infection and damage, leaving the woman with fecal incontinence, the lawsuit says.

The Rogue Valley woman is going by the pseudonym Mary Doe in the lawsuit.

"This is tremendously socially isolating and embarrassing for the victim," said her attorney, Kelly Andersen.

Andersen said the woman is not planning to sue the physicians who didn't correctly diagnose her during the week she was trying to find out what was wrong.

"A wooden toothpick generally doesn't show up on an MRI, X-ray or other imaging test. It's very difficult to diagnose," he said.

Andersen said an iPhone digital photo proves the woman was at Standing Stone on the afternoon of Dec. 1, 2014.

Anderson said the woman remembers her burger was held together with a wooden skewer. She remembers removing the skewer and eating the burger, but doesn't remember swallowing the wood fragment. After the fragment was surgically removed, it was measured at 3 centimeters, or a little over an inch, he said.

A photo on Standing Stone's website shows a row of burgers and a sandwich, with each pinned together with a thin piece of wood that could be described as either a skewer or large wooden toothpick.

Andersen said a scientific study found more than 8,000 people are injured by toothpicks in the United States each year, usually because they swallow a toothpick or suffer an eye or ear puncture.

"I've learned these toothpick injuries are more frequent than people realize," Andersen said.

The research, published in 1984 in the The Journal of the American Medical Association with an accompanying report, revealed that swallowing toothpicks can be deadly. One man died after suffering a ruptured bowel, while another died from a punctured colon. A third man suffered mysterious AIDS-like symptoms after a toothpick worked its way to his liver.

A case study published in 2014 by Italian researchers told of a man with abdominal pain, a digestive system rupture, nausea and vomiting who had part of his colon removed because doctors thought he had cancer. An examination of the tissue revealed he had swallowed a piece of toothpick about 2 inches long.

The Italian researchers noted correct diagnosis of a swallowed toothpick is difficult because diagnostic imaging tests are usually not sensitive to wooden toothpick fragments. Additionally, a 2014 review of 136 cases found the majority of patients weren't aware they had accidentally ingested a toothpick, they said.

Andersen said Standing Stone has changed its practices at the restaurant since the woman was injured.

"'They have changed to a more sturdy type of skewer," he said. "They do not admit the skewer removed from her body was theirs. But this case made them aware a skewer can break."

In a statement, William Martin, the attorney for Standing Stone, said, "In its Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint, Standing Stone denies her allegation that she swallowed a skewer fragment at the restaurant. It would not be appropriate to make any substantive comment to the media regarding Standing Stone's denial of this allegation."

Andersen said he's not campaigning for restaurants to change the industry's practice of spearing food with toothpicks. However, since most toothpick injuries happen to children, he does recommend adults use toothpicks cautiously.

"Don't ever let a child play with toothpicks and be very careful about putting toothpicks in food eaten by children," he advised.

Andersen said a trial in the case has been pushed back so the woman can undergo surgery to try to improve her condition.

"Standing Stone's attorney is a real upright guy and we both want what is best for this woman," Andersen said. "We both know she has a condition no one would want. We want her to achieve the best medical results. We both agreed to postpone the case. Additional surgery is risky, but her current condition is not acceptable. It's so isolating and embarrassing."

He added, "She never dreamed she would be in a lawsuit."

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Customers leave the Standing Stone Brewery Monday afternoon in Ashland. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]