A mother has been awarded $1.1 million after staff at a Chicken Treat franchise accidentally put caustic soda instead of salt on the hot chips she bought to share with her nine-year-old son.
Karis Louise Pringle was airlifted to a Perth hospital in May 2013 after eating the chips at a Western Australian store in Bunbury, which was operated by Tabloid.
She suffered caustic burns to her upper gastrointestinal tract and was later diagnosed with a pain disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a decision handed down in the Western Australia District Court, Judge Belinda Lonsdale found Ms Pringle had “suffered a significant diminution in the quality of her life”.
Ms Pringle was one of 11 people who suffered injuries that day from the contaminated chips, with one other person flown to a Perth hospital.
A ‘mild cleaning product’
The court heard Ms Pringle and her then-nine-year-old son had visited the Bunbury store in 2013 to order meals that included a serve of chips.
She ate a couple of chips and straight away noticed a sensation she could not describe, and asked her son to taste them to see if “they tasted funny”.
The court heard she decided to go back to the store and ask about the chips and by the time she reached the counter, her mouth and lips were burning.
She was told by a staff member that caustic soda had been mistakenly placed on the chips instead of salt.
“It’s a mild cleaning product. Go home. Wash your mouth out. You’ll be right,” Ms Pringle told the court they said.
When her lips began to blister and she started vomiting, Ms Pringle presented at Bunbury Regional Hospital.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service was called to airlift her to a Perth hospital where she received an endoscopy and a numbing treatment.
The court heard it was the start of long-term issues that had a dramatic impact on Ms Pringle’s life.
She gave evidence that she was unable to eat anything other than a bland diet, otherwise it was like “the sensation of recently eating toast and feeling cuts and shards of skin coming off her mouth”.
The court also heard Ms Pringle struggled to stay in the workforce after being made redundant 18 months after the incident.
She was awarded $1.1 million, which included compensation for loss of earning capacity, future medical expenses and general damages.
Caustic soda ’causes very severe burns’: expert
University of Western Australia toxicologist Jessamine Soderstrom, who works in emergency medicine at Royal Perth Hospital, said patients presenting with caustic soda burns made medical staff “very, very anxious”.
“It causes very severe burns. Not just to the mouth, but also to the airway and also to the gullet, and the stomach,” she told ABC Radio Perth.
“It causes burns pretty much immediately on contact and continues to burn until you wash it out.”
Depending on the severity of the burn, ingesting caustic soda could lead to long-lasting effects, according to Dr Soderstrom.
“If the burn is severe enough to cause scarring, patients can go on to have difficulty swallowing,” she said.
While similar cases of accidental ingestion of caustic soda are relatively infrequent, Dr Soderstrom urged people to take precautions.
“It’s just so important that poisons like that are just stored away in places that are safe where it can’t be accessed by children,” she said.