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Jury awards $350K to woman for injuries from screw in Chili’s nachos

At Donta Newton’s trial, his lawyer believed permitting an alternate juror to attend the deliberations would help ensure against a mistrial, despite rule that requires a judge to excuse alternates when deliberations begin. But Newton was found guilty of attempted murder and given a life sentence; now, the Court of Appeals is considering whether his lawyer was ineffective. (Deposit stock image)

(Deposit stock image)

A Baltimore jury awarded $350,000 on Tuesday to a woman who bit into a screw in her nachos at a Chili’s restaurant in Timonium.

Caresa Smith cracked three teeth in May 2018 and needed two root canals and three permanent crowns over the next year to repair the damage, according to attorney Allen E. Honick. She was told at the time of the incident that the screw she found in her meal had come from the kitchen machine that warms tortilla chips.

Smith asked Chili’s to pay her dental bills, which amounted to a few thousand dollars, but was rebuffed, prompting her to file suit in December 2018, according to Honick, of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP in Baltimore.

The defense told the jury that Smith’s injuries were preexisting and argued in closing arguments that she was owed nothing, Honick said. Smith’s dentist testified that she was a model patient.

The award is all noneconomic damages. To date, Smith’s total dental bills have been roughly $9,000, with future procedures likely to be necessary to replace crowns.

Honick said a juror he spoke to after the verdict said that Smith’s testimony alone gave jurors what they needed to reach their verdict and that they did not like the defense’s “extreme position.” They deliberated for approximately 40 minutes before returning the verdict.

“I’m so proud to see a Baltimore jury see right through this,” Honick said. “It gives me so much faith in the system we have here in Baltimore city.”

Honick said his client was “humbled” by the verdict.

“I think she felt vindicated,” he said. “It showed her she’s not a fraud. It’s never been about the money for her.”

Defense attorney Angela W. Russell of Wilson Elser in Baltimore deferred to her client for comment.

Caresa Smith v. Chili’s of Maryland Inc.

Court: Baltimore City Circuit

Case No.: C-20-CV-17-000208

Judge: Gregory Sampson

Proceeding: Jury trial

Outcome: Verdict for plaintiffs ($350,000 in noneconomic damages)


Incident: May 12, 2018

Suit filed: Dec. 12, 2018

Verdict: Sept. 24, 2019

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Allen E. Honick and David Daneman of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys: Angela W. Russell of Wilson Elser in Baltimore

Counts: Negligence

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of the Chili’s restaurant. It is in Timonium.

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