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September 23. 2013 8:57PM

Lawsuit: Manchester woman soured by rat she says she found in frozen lemonade

MANCHESTER — A jury is expected to begin its first day of deliberation today on a product liability lawsuit brought by a Manchester woman who said she found a dead rat and maggots in a can of Minute Maid frozen lemonade.

Colleen Grady, 50, claims she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a friend opened the can on July 11, 2011, shortly before a dinner party. She has sued The Coca-Cola Company, which is the owner of Minute Maid products, Hannaford Supermarkets and Victory Distributors.

Three days of testimony ended Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court-North. A jury heard closing arguments and legal instructions Monday afternoon.

During the trial, Grady complained that she had to keep the rat carcass in her freezer for more than a week when a courier did not immediately arrive to pick up the carcass on behalf of Coca-Cola. She eventually hired a lawyer, and the rat has been in cold storage ever since.

Except for last week, when it was brought into the trial and entered as evidence. It sat inside a plastic pitcher atop a courtroom evidence table Monday, alongside two cans of Minute Maid frozen lemonade.

Grady’s friend, Denise Spenard, had testified earlier about opening the can and dumping the contents into the pitcher. Intially, she saw what she thought were seeds in the lemonade syrup, then frozen, gray fur, face and a muzzle.

“That’s really our case,” said Grady’s attorney, Manchester lawyer Vincent Wenners.

The trial featured employees from the Coca-Cola plant in Ontario, Canada, where the frozen lemonade was canned, a video presentation of the plant, physicians with competing interpretations of Grady’s diagnosis and even an insect expert who discussed the maggot life cycle.

James E. Riley Jr., the Boston lawyer representing the defendants, said Coca-Cola employs both internal and external measures to ensure product safety.

“Coca-Cola’s name and commitment to consumer safety, to a good solid product: you’ve been aware of that for years,” Riley told the jury.

He also said Grady’s PTSD diagnosis is “a tad bit insulting” to Iraqi soldiers, Boston Marathon bombing victims and rape victims.

But Wenners said Riley was attacking Grady. People react to trauma differently, he said. Grady now suffers flashbacks, avoids the frozen food aisle and thinks a quick background movement could be a rat, Wenners said.

If she doesn’t suffer PTSD, it’s at least severe emotional distress, Wenners said.

Wenners told the jury that the amount of damages would be up to them.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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