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OFF BEAT: Court says waiter who choked on quesadilla cannot collect comp


A waiter at TGI Friday’s in Virginia bit off more than he could chew when he filed for workers compensation benefits after choking on a quesadilla.

Michael Bernard, a host and waiter for the restaurant chain, claimed he was injured in 2010 when he “attempted to swallow a piece of quesadilla that was too big for his esophagus,” according to a ruling this week by the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Mr. Bernard said he was injured by the “strenuous process of dislodging” the “partially chewed” food. Court records show he suffered a perforated esophagus and collapsed lung after the choking incident and received emergency surgery.

Mr. Bernard claimed that TGI Friday’s employees often sample the restaurant’s food so they can recommend fare to customers.

The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission found that Mr. Bernard’s injury occurred in the course of employment, but it denied his comp claim because there was nothing “unusual or abnormal” about the quesadilla that caused his injury.

The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in a 2-1 decision Tuesday, saying that Mr. Bernard’s quesadilla-choking risk was not unique to his employment.

“Swallowing partially chewed food was a risk Bernard faced equally on and off the job,” the majority opinion reads. “Nothing about the TGIF quesadilla or Bernard’s work environment increased that risk.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert P. Frank said Mr. Bernard should receive comp benefits because food tastings were part of his job to recommend dishes to guests.