• Vermont man alleges he found condom in Burger King burger
    By Brent Curtis Herald Staff | December 07,2007
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    ALBERT J. MARRO / RUTLAND HERALD

    Van Miguel Hartless of Fair Haven looks at the Burger King sandwich he claims had an unwrapped condom in it.
    Three bites into his Southwestern Whopper sandwich Van Miguel Hartless knew something was wrong.

    "It had a sour taste and I felt something rubbery," the Fair Haven man said Thursday. "I immediately spit it out and ran to the bathroom to vomit."

    Hartless, 24, contends that what he bit into in his Burger King sandwich was a condom unwrapped and possibly used.

    The incident last summer led him first to complain and then to file a lawsuit in Rutland Superior Court.

    Hartless, a junior at Green Mountain College, is seeking unspecified damages in court from Carrols Corp., a company in Syracuse, N.Y., which owns the Burger King in Rutland where Hartless bought his sandwich.

    In the lawsuit, Hartless' lawyer Devin McLaughlin argues that Carrols Corp. was negligent and liable for selling Hartless the hamburger that has caused him "sustained pain and suffering, vomiting, nightmares, mental and emotional distress" and medical expenses.

    Calls to Carrols Corp. headquarters were not returned on Thursday and the manager at the local store declined to comment on the case.

    Hartless said during an interview Thursday that the second and last time he visited the Burger King in Rutland was on June 18 when the lure of a home-style hamburger brought him to the restaurant.

    "At that time they were promoting the Southwestern Whopper. Being from Texas I was excited. There's not a lot of spicy food here," he said.

    Hartless, who moved to Fair Haven two years ago, said he didn't recognize anyone working at the restaurant and as far as he knows, no one in the restaurant knew him.

    But while he was ordering his meal, he said the woman taking his order gave him a hard time about doing the order his way.

    "I asked for a Whopper with jalapenos and hold the onions," he said. "The girl told me they didn't have jalapenos but the last time I was in there they gave me jalapenos. When I said that, she told me that they never carried jalapenos. I told her that was fine, but she pulled out a list and said, 'Like you see, we don't carry them.'

    "When she read back my order a few minutes later it was wrong," he added.

    Frustrated, Hartless said he sat in a booth to wait for his meal. From the angle of the booth, he said he couldn't see the kitchen or the person preparing his sandwich.

    When his order was ready, he said he took it home with him to Fair Haven where he sat down to dinner with his spouse and stepdaughter. He said after making his gruesome discovery, the rest of the sandwiches were searched but no additional objects were found.

    While he said he has no proof that the condom was placed in his sandwich by an employee at the restaurant, he said the fact that it was there made the restaurant responsible for what happened.

    Hartless said his first inclination was to complain to the restaurant's manager, who he said laughed off the incident.

    "That's the part that upsets me the most, is that he laughed about it," he said.

    Hartless said he was also insulted by an insinuation he said the manager made about the possibility that he might have put the condom in his own burger. Since the incident, he said he has submitted to a polygraph test administered by a professional contracted by his attorney.

    Two years ago, a woman who claimed to have found a finger in her bowl of chili at a California Wendy's restaurant was exposed as a fraud with a history of filing frivolous litigation. However, a search of court filings in Rutland Superior Court and the Civil Court in El Paso, Texas, where Hartless lived previously turned up no prior or existing lawsuits. Hartless also lived in Auburn, Maine, for a time but a clerk at the Superior Court in that community said record searches could not be made over the phone.

    Hartless said he has also been concerned about his health.

    With no way to visually determine if the condom had been used, Hartless said he made multiple trips to the doctor's office to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. The tests came back negative, he said, but cost him and his insurance company in excess of $300.

    In the days soon after the incident, Hartless said he couldn't bring himself to eat anything and he said he had nightmares about the hamburger.

    "I know it sounds kind of funny now but I had dreams where I would be doing random things and whatever I was holding would turn into the hamburger or the condom."

    About a week after he bought the hamburger, he said he received a letter of apology from Burger King he said was vague and ended with the optimistic phrase "Hope you come back and have a more pleasurable experience."

    "I called them and said 'This is crap,'" he said. "What makes you think I would ever come back?"

    Contact Brent Curtis at brent.curtis@rutlandherald.com.
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