Yuva - India

Unknown story of Wendy’s Finger Chilli Lawsuit

Wendy’s is an American-International fast-food restaurant chain founded by Dave Thomas in 1969 in Ohio, USA. It is famous for its burger & side items, but in 2005, it gained fame due to the controversy of serving a finger to its customer instead of chilli.

Let’s find out what happened

On 25th March, a woman named Anna Ayala went to Wendy’s with her family on Monterey Road. Anna orders a bowl of chilli for herself. As she enjoys her chilli, she stumbles upon an interesting bite which she described to be long & crunchy. She spits it & is astonished to find that it was a human finger that was served to her in the chilli bowl and she had just bit onto the fingernail. She immediately fell sick, which is quite obvious & created a ruckus at the restaurant that she had a human finger in her food. All the workers gathered up and were horrified to see that it was an actual finger. The employees were confused about what to do, so they decide to dump the chilli & then they call the police. The police deny it is not a case for us, but the Health Department.

The workers then contacted the Top Level Management, who instructed them to put the finger in the freezer & not touch it. But by nightfall, this news was all over the local channels & it was blowing up. It was a PR nightmare for Wendy’s. The chilli bowl was their speciality at the time & such news was not good for them at all. It wasn’t long that it spread out of California and became National News. People started avoiding going to Wendy’s, because who’d want to go to a food joint that serves human fingers in their food?

This is when Wendy’s decided to take the investigation into their own hands because till then, the police was not involved. The next day, owners of the franchise & Heath inspectors come to investigate the finger. It was confirmed that this was a human finger, but they were still confused since everyone there had all 10 fingers. They also checked with other facilities that handle their raw materials, but nobody reported a missing finger.

In the meanwhile, disgusted by her experience, Anna filed a lawsuit against Wendy’s. She even went down to all news channels and gave them the interview of her traumatic experience. At this point, Wendy’s was a joke at all talk shows & news channels. This is when Wendy decided to do a forensic investigation on the finger. The reports revealed that the tissues did not look cooked at 170 degrees for 3 hours, which is how Wendy’s prepares its chilli. But the most suspicious revelation was they did not find Anna’s saliva on the finger, whereas she claimed to have bit the finger. This is when Wendy’s was determined that they were being defrauded.

People at this time were very sensitive to Anna so they could not put allegations on her until they had proof. They hired a private investigator and once they looked into her past, she had 13 lawsuits against different Companies. Some of them were dismissed but for others, she received a large sum of cash settlements. They now call the police and tell them that this could be a criminal case & they need to look into it. After few interrogations with the police, she started turning from her story & at this point, the media was not favouring her.

On 12th April, she dropped the lawsuit against Wendy’s & withdrew from the media. She said it was too much mental pressure for her! Since Wendy’s had already lost millions of dollars every day due to this lawsuit. They set up a helpline number offering $50,000 to anyone who could tell who this finger belonged to. They took such a huge step because they had to clear their reputation. A few tips came in but the DNA of the finger did not match with any people involved. Another tip comes in that Anna was probably involved in some real estate fraud. The police now dig more information about her husband- Jamie’s past as well. Upon investigation, police found out that the couple was involved in a few illegal activities. Anna had sold a house to a woman, claiming it was hers, for $52,000 & took advance payment of $11,000. The woman later found out that this house was her boyfriend’s & Anna did not even have the rights to sell it. When asked for her money back, Anna kicked the woman out of her house.

It was found that Jamie defaulted payment of $4,00,000 in child support. This is when police arrested the couple on 21st April. Even after their arrest, people all around the country were still avoiding Wendy’s. They were losing $1 Million, every day since March 5th. Wendy’s was determined to find out the truth about this finger & on May 13th, they announced the owner of that finger. This came in right after they upped the reward to $1,00,000 for any tips. They received the tip from Jamie’s employer claiming that one of his employees, Brian recently lost his finger after getting it caught in a truck & he sold it to Jamie since he owed him $100. He also told Brian his intentions with the finger, while explaining that he will plant it in a food bowl and get compensation from the Franchise. The DNA test confirmed that the finger belonged to Brian.

Now, both Anna and Jamie are charged with grand theft due to a loss in Wendy’s revenue. Anna was sentenced to 9 years in prison in Jan 2006 & ordered to pay restitution of $21.2 Million to Wendy’s & $5,00,000 to its Parent company- JEM Management besides that $1,70,000 to Wendy’s employees. She was also ordered to pay $19,000 as compensation to the woman she defrauded in real estate.

She appealed for her sentence and fought against the order to pay Wendy’s Employees since they were not direct victims of her crime. And the Appeal’s Court decided to take 5 years off her sentence but she still had to pay all the amount as told by Court. Multiple people were affected due to this, people lost their hours of wages, the cashier Anna shouted on that day lost his job for a few months and ended up in debt only a few months later. Jamie was ordered 12 years imprisonment for his part in arranging the finger & unpaid child support. His appeal to the sentence was denied by the Court.

The worst effect of this was on Wendy’s since they could not keep up their sales for months to come. Anna was released in 2010, after serving only 4 years in prison. Isn’t it strange that she only got 4 years?

Ria Dhawan,
Columnist

Ria Dhawan is a practising lawyer with a reputed firm at Delhi. Apart from litigation, she is interested in International law and Cross Border Disputes. Her spectrum of interests include human rights, laws governing finance & banking. She is also interested in fashion industry and keeps updating to latest make up looks and fashion trends.

DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author

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