Man sues organiser of taco eating contest after his father dies

The court filing states that Mr Hutchings “had a mouth full of chewed and unchewed tacos obstructing his respiratory system.”

Des Bieler
Wednesday 07 April 2021 17:05 BST
(The Fresno Bee/AP)

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The son of a man who died after a taco-eating contest has filed a lawsuit against the ownership of a minor league baseball team that organized the 2019 event.

In the lawsuit, filed on Monday in California state superior court on behalf of Marshall Hutchings, Fresno Sports and Events is accused of “grossly negligent conduct.” The company, which owns the Fresno Grizzlies, is alleged to have carried out the contest in an unsafe manner and to have failed to warn the man, Dana Hutchings, of the dangers he faced.

Mr Hutchings, 41 at the time, died in August 2019 at a Fresno hospital after being taken there from Chukchansi Park, a municipally-owned stadium where the Grizzlies play. The county coroner’s office subsequently determined that he died of choking.

Monday’s court filing, obtained by The Washington Post, states that Mr Hutchings “had a mouth full of chewed and unchewed tacos obstructing his respiratory system.”

The Grizzlies “knew or should have known that promoting inherently dangerous eating competitions with coarse foods, such as tacos, are more likely to lead to choking, especially, for an amateur eating participant,” the filing declares. The team is also accused of failing to have a medical response team at the ready and of doing nothing to prevent the participants from consuming alcohol before the contest.

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The president of the Grizzlies, who were then a Class AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals, said at the time the team was “devastated” by the news.

“The safety and security of our fans is our highest priority,” team president Derek Franks said in a statement. “We will work closely with local authorities and provide any helpful information that is requested.”

Franks told The Post via email Monday that the Grizzlies will not be commenting on the lawsuit.

The court filing points out that the amateur contest took place days before the Grizzlies were set to host a professional competition as part of their annual Taco Truck Throwdown. Major League Eating, which was to sanction the professional event, noted in a promotional news release that 2018 winner Geoff Esper “downed a delicious 73 tacos in eight minutes.” In the wake of Hutchings’s death, the Grizzlies cancelled the professional contest.

The Grizzlies, whose 2020 season was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, did not mention eating contests in their description of this year’s Taco Truck Throwdown, scheduled for October. The team, now a Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, said in a news release that additional details about the event “will be announced as we monitor state and local health restrictions.”

“There’s a big difference between amateur eating competitions and professional ones,” Martin Taleisnik, an attorney for 18-year-old Marshall Hutchings, said in an email. “Competitors in pro events train as athletes to prepare themselves for the rigours of what consuming large amounts of food in a short timespan can do to you. Amateurs, on the other hand, can’t contemplate or appreciate the effects of their participation in the competition. We feel that safeguards must be in place to protect the amateur contestant because they really don’t even know what they don’t know about an eating competition.”

A fan who attended the 2019 event told Fresno’s KFSN that he heard Dana Hutchings say he’d had some beer but had been “not eating all day to make himself a winner.” Once the contest began, the fan said of Hutchings, “He was hungry, you could tell. My son and I were standing there like, ‘Oh, there’s the guy.’ And he was winning because he was starving.”

Hutchings’s brother told the TV station that his sibling was “a fun-loving guy.”

“He had a great sense of humour and liked to make people laugh,” said Mecca Hutchings.

Citing Marshall Hutchings’s loss of “love, affection, society, service, comfort, and counselling, companionship, solace and mental support,” the lawsuit is seeking unspecified compensatory damages.

The Washington Post

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