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Whether it’s a finger, a rodent or a figurative foot, foreign objects in people’s mouths make work for lawyers. Jennifer Solomon learned that lesson last week when she became defense counsel in a suit over an unwanted culinary surprise. Unfortunately for Solomon — who just started at Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker — she received the case about a month after her client attempted a novel public defense of the charge that his winery served an alleged rat sandwich. That’s “alleged” because the V. Sattui winery’s owner vehemently denies that Andrew and Cindy Chang were served a rat sandwich. He insists it was a mouse. “Rats are a whole lot worse than a field mouse,” the winery’s owner, Daryl Sattui, told the Napa Valley Register last month. The species probably won’t make much of a difference in Chang v. Sattui Winery, 26-28344 — filed last month in Napa County Superior Court — said John Morken, a lawyer with the Cartwright Law Firm who represents the San Francisco couple. “No one’s going to argue, I don’t think reasonably, that food with animal parts is fit for consumption,” said Morken. “Even if it is a mouse.” The taxonomic controversy is a new twist, but the plaintiff bar has long profited on a diet of unsavory culinary surprises. “Nothing this juicy, so to speak,” said Morken, adding, however, that “there’s a whole host of other cases: a rock in your burrito that breaks your tooth, a condom in a bowl of soup.” San Jose, Calif., plaintiffs lawyer Jeffrey Janoff agreed. “There’s quite a few cases,” he said. “There was a mouse head in Wendy’s chili in 1995 in New York.” Janoff knows a thing or two about Wendy’s chili since he’s representing the woman who was served a bowl of chili con finger at a San Jose Wendy’s on March 22. No suit has been filed in that case. Claims over fingers, rodents and the like depend on standard negligence and product liability arguments. “A consumer wouldn’t expect to bite into a rat,” explained Morken. He said the Cartwright firm once sued over a finger found in a loaf of bread. V. Sattui President Tom Davies didn’t have much to say about the incident, but the winery’s owner wrote a letter to the Napa Valley Register last month accusing the paper of “sensationalism” in its rodent mastication coverage. “Probably no one will ever know how the rodents got into the sandwiches,” Sattui wrote. Unsurprisingly, Sattui’s defense strategy — which also involved expressing public outrage at a reported $15,000 settlement demand from the plaintiffs — was concocted without the help of legal counsel. That’s because a mix-up with its insurer meant that the winery had no lawyer until last week — and is late in responding to the complaint. Solomon said Monday that she didn’t know whether the alternate rodent theory would be the final defense. “I just have the complaint,” she said. “I don’t know anything yet.” She did lament the fact that the court case is moving forward so soon after the Wendy’s incident. As Solomon prepares to respond, her client is trying to stay out of the spotlight. “We are sorry the media chose to blow this out of proportion,” Sattui concluded in his letter to the Napa paper.

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