Months after the initial reaction, she claims that her health problems persist.
The Michigan woman worked at a loan office, in a job that “involves a great deal of telephone contact with prospective customers,” according to the documents. She suffers from allergies and started to notice that she was allergic to ingredients in Dijon mustard about a year earlier.
On June 2, she called in an order for a “Billy Club unwich” — a breadless sandwich that usually consists of roast beef, smoked ham, provolone cheese, Dijon mustard, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. (Ordering an “unwich” means that the sandwich doesn’t include bread and instead is wrapped in lettuce.)
However, when Bresnahan placed her order in Grand Rapids, she asked that it not include Dijon mustard and mayonnaise, the documents state.
“When the order was delivered to her office by the Jimmy John’s employee, Plaintiff sat at her desk and began to eat her lunch,” the complaint reads. “After taking one bite of the sandwich, Plaintiff began to experience an allergic reaction, including coughing, eyes watering, and her throat beginning to close. She opened the sandwich and saw that the sandwich contained Dijon mustard, contrary to her specific instructions when she placed the order.”
Bresnahan’s co-workers told her to go to a hospital, according to the court filing.
However, she thought she’d get better, so she took medication instead. She later called the Jimmy John’s restaurant to complain.
“The person who answered the phone apologized for the mix-up on the order and sent a delivery person to retrieve the sandwich,” the complaint states.
Bresnahan happened to have a doctor’s appointment that day, and the doctor told her to keep taking the medicine, according to the documents. She also sent a text message to a family doctor about the issue, and was given the same advice.
The next day, though, she left for a memorial service in New York state.
“Plaintiff continued to cough violently and also vomited frequently,” the lawsuit alleges. “By the time she returned to Michigan on Sunday, she was barely able to speak.”
Bresnahan went to work that Monday, but she “could hardly be understood because she could not speak, so she was sent home.” She hasn’t been able to work since the day that she ordered the sandwich, according to the lawsuit, and is now on disability.
The complaint claims that Jimmy John’s was negligent in taking her order, and training its employees “on the importance of accurately taking orders, especially with respect to customers with allergies.”
“It is not unreasonable to expect a sandwich shop to make the sandwich according to the order,” her attorney, Wolf Mueller, wrote in an email. “Sometimes no harm results, other than annoyance. Other times, like here, serious harm can result. Either way, Jimmy John’s is accountable for its negligence.”
Mueller said that his client has spent months dealing with the reaction, with no improvement to her condition. She had to move out of her apartment, and is not able work. It is unclear if the damage from the reaction is permanent, he said.
“It’s five months now,” he said. “You and I can speak in a whisper, but we can have intonation and inflection. Hers is just a flat, affectless whisper. And that’s five months later, because of the damage to her vocal cords. Certainly, if it’s permanent, this is a very significant case.”
About 2 percent of adults in the United States are affected by food allergies, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which noted on its website that “more than 160 different foods have been reported to cause allergies; the list of major allergens in the United States is limited to eight foods.”
Those eight do not include mustard.
“Other countries may have different foods on their lists because food allergies reflect patterns of consumption,” Stefano Luccioli, senior medical adviser in the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, said on the agency’s website. “For example, in Europe there is a high prevalence of allergies to mustard and celery.”
It is not clear what Bresnahan was allergic to in the Dijon mustard.
“We don’t know. She just knows that she had developed an allergy to Dijon mustard,” Mueller said. “What specifically, what ingredients in Dijon mustard, we don’t know. But that’s why it was so important, when she said ‘no Dijon mustard, no mayo.’ ”
Jimmy John’s did not immediately return a request for comment.