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Published: Saturday, 7/17/2004

Court finds rolls are hot, suit against eatery is not

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When a Cleveland-area man shoved dinner rolls into his mouth at a South Toledo restaurant, he should have expected the food would be hot and he likely would get burned, an appeals court has ruled.

Matthew Gauci sued Ryan's Family Steak House on South Reynolds Road for the burns in his mouth he suffered in a dinner roll-eating contest at the eatery in February, 2002.

Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo yesterday upheld a decision by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Ruth Ann Franks dismissing Mr. Gauci's lawsuit against the restaurant.

The three-judge panel said the restaurant did not have a duty to protect Mr. Gauci from hot rolls that are not unusually hot.

In other words, Mr. Gauci

should have known the dinner rolls he stuffed into his mouth were too hot to eat.

"Ordinarily, one has no duty to protect another from his or her own folly," said Judge Arlene Singer, who wrote the decision for the panel.

Mr. Gauci, 21, a dental assistant from Sagamore Hills, Ohio, said he burned the inside of his mouth while he and friends attempted to see who could stuff the most rolls in their mouths.

The group stopped at the restaurant while traveling to Chicago to attend a dental convention. According to his deposition, Mr. Gauci said he put two rolls into his mouth and began to chew when he got scalded.

However, Mr. Gauci testified the rolls were freshly served and he believed that rolls are hot when they come out of an oven.

Ryan's Restaurant Group Inc., based in Greer, S.C., operates 240 restaurants in 23 states.

"The safety and comfort of our customers is always a number one priority for us. We felt this case was without merit. We are glad we prevailed in the second ruling in the state appeals court," Andrew Lominack, a spokesman for the restaurant chain, said.

Mr. Gauci said in his deposition he treated the burns and wore a custom-made splint in his mouth for two weeks.

Mr. Gauci said yesterday he didn't want to talk about the decision or the lawsuit.

He referred questions to his attorney, Steven Potter of Cleveland. Mr. Potter said he had not read the decision and could not comment.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6009.



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