Richard Washart isn't planning on drinking a draft beer anytime soon. The last pint he downed nearly killed him, he says in a lawsuit.
Washart, a retired Ocean City police officer, said events began when he went out for dinner on Nov. 6, 2012 to McCormick and Schmick's at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City. With a new career as a full-time supervisor of paramedics, he was out to celebrate the successful reboot of AtlantiCare's emergency medical services with co-workers.
Washart, 53, arrived early and ordered a beer at the bar. He finished off a draft of Blue Moon and ordered another, but the bartender said the keg was kicked. So Washart ordered a pint of Sam Adams Winter Lager.
"The seasonal beer had just been introduced," he said. "They're excellent beers."
Washart said he took a sizable swig and instantly, he felt a searing burning sensation in his mouth and down his esophagus.
"The pain was unimaginable," he recounted Tuesday in an interview with Philly.com. "It forced me to run to the bathroom and I immediately began to projectile vomit blood."
He excused himself from his dinner party and rushed home to his wife, Cynthia, who is a registered nurse.
Washart spent a week in an Atlantic City hospital where his doctor surmised Washart had ingested a corrosive, likely a lye-type substance used to decontaminate a beer dispensing line at McCormick and Schmick's, according to a lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Atlantic County.
"You would have thought that a bartender would have noticed something wrong with the beer," said Washart's attorney, Paul D'Amato of Egg Harbor Township. "A friend had handed the beer to him and the friend said the beer looked 'shiny' and had no head on it. He didn't think anything of it. The shiny stuff was the cleaning solution that remained in the beer. "
A representative for McCormick and Schmick's issued a strongly worded statement denying responsibility.
"McCormick & Schmick denies the baseless allegations made by Mr. D'Amato's law firm in an attempt to posture and gain media attention on a case that was filed on his client's behalf more than two years ago," the statement said. "During the entire course of this litigation, Mr. Washart and his attorneys have been unable to provide a shred of evidence proving that McCormick & Schmick did anything wrong. Moreover, no other person who drank tap beer on that day experienced any issues. We will not allow the Plaintiff's attorney to tarnish our good name over a frivolous lawsuit such as this, and remain very confident that we will prevail on the merits of this case."
But Washart maintains his story is true. Shortly after being stricken, Washart said his son called the restaurant to let them know.
"They joked about it," Washart said. "McCormick and Schmick's kinda blew us off."
The caustic liquid burned away nearly 25 percent of Washart's stomach lining and caused additional damage to his digestive tract. Two years later, he's healing slowly and remains in constant pain.
During a health department investigation that followed, McCormick and Schmick's managers said the beer distributor, Kramer Beverage, had been to the restaurant and cleaned the lines. Kramer is also a defendant in the lawsuit along with the restaurant.
Mark Kramer, CEO of Kramer Beverage, said what happened to Washart was unfortunate but Kramer Beverage was not to blame.
"He certainly suffered significant injuries. But I'm certainly not a doctor, I sell beer for a living," Kramer said. "What I do know for sure is we weren't there that day."
Washart is willing to let a jury sort out who is responsible for his injuries.
Before the case goes to trial in spring 2016, though, his attorney needs to speak with employees of the restaurant or the beer distributor who may have information about that day, the first day the Atlantic City casinos reopened after being closed for a week in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Washart has returned to work at AtlantiCare. He's determined to make sure a similar incident never happens to anyone else.
"I will never forget, not just the incredible burning sensation from my mouth to my stomach, but also being told how I could have died from drinking that beer," Washart said. "I only wish it were a bad dream. It is a nightmare with which I live every day."