An Orange County woman is suing an Irvine restaurant, saying she found a condom in her clam chowder.
Laila Sultan, 48, said she was eating at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant on Feb. 26, 2002, when something rubbery stuck to her tooth. "We said, 'Of course. You're chewing on a clam,' " said Paula Wild, one of three friends with her -- all eating clam chowder, and all of whom have joined the lawsuit.
Sultan spit out the offending material. She said it was an unwrapped, rolled-up condom. "There was no question what it was," Wild said.
"We're all adult women. Believe me, I've seen one in my lifetime."
Sultan said she ran to the bathroom and threw up for 15 minutes.
The case is scheduled for trial Jan. 12. Sultan and Wild, along with Cindy Hammond and Annamarie Sigala, are suing for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The question is: How could a condom get into the chowder?
"It's as big a mystery to us as it is to anybody else," said Patrick Stark, attorney for McCormick & Schmick's.
The restaurant sued American Roland Food Corp., which supplied the clams. A judge ruled in favor of the supplier in September.
"We are going to argue there is absolutely no evidence to suggest the restaurant was the source of the condom, or any employee of the restaurant," Stark said. "Either it came from [the four women] or it was thrown in as a practical joke by another patron at the restaurant."
The condom itself was seized by the restaurant manager, the women said. They said he told them the insurance company had instructed him not to return it or let them photograph it.
Stark said that because the condom was rolled up, "it was clearly unused" and for that reason hasn't been tested.
The lawsuit says the condom was "a possibly used one."
Sultan and Wild said the women have tested negative for HIV. McCormick & Schmick's is a privately owned chain with 42 upscale restaurants in 19 states.
Sultan lives in Stanton and works as a reservations agent for a travel company.
She said she had been to the McCormick & Schmick's previously and had never had any problems. She said the women ordered drinks, appetizers and then soup. Because the soup was lukewarm, they sent it back. When the food returned, Sultan said, she bit into the condom.
Sultan said that the condom discovery has caused psychological trauma and sent her to a psychiatrist for a year and a half. She said she has taken a variety of medications for depression and anxiety.
"I can't touch fish," she said. "I can't smell fish. I get sick. I can't eat soups anymore." She said she has lost her appetite for sex and food, and lost about 10 pounds.
"I went through hell," she said. "I don't know how to describe it."