LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—The Arkansas Court of Appeals rejected a Pizza Hut operation's request to toss a judge's default judgment in favor of plaintiffs who claimed a restaurant worker spat on their food.
According to The Denton Record-Chronicle, the court ruled that lawyers for Pizza Hut's largest U.S. franchisee, NPC International Inc., (doing business as Pizza Hut of West Helena), did not file an answer to the complaint on time.
The court sent the case back to Phillips County Circuit Court for hearings to set damages.
Customer Sylvia Hill and 11 others filed a $6 million lawsuit Nov. 19, 2002, against Pizza Hut and employee Summer Harris. The complaint says Harris spat and placed the "contents of her nose" on food that Hill and the others purchased from the West Helena restaurant.
The complaint alleged that Harris adulterated the food "for the purpose of her spreading an infectious disease." The plaintiffs complained that they suffered a variety of gastric ailments after eating the food, and that they have "been in an agitated state of fear" since learning that "they may have been infected with HIV."
The complaint also accused Pizza Hut of negligence for keeping Harris on as a shift supervisor despite the company's awareness that she had engaged in similar conduct in the past. The suit sought $4 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.