A woman is suing a Thai restaurant in Los Gatos, claiming an appetizer called Dragon Balls was so spicy she suffered chemical burns to her vocal cords, esophagus and the inside of her right nostril.
Harjasleen Walia’s throat and voice “have been damaged” by the appetizer at Coup de Thai, the lawsuit claimed. “She incurred permanent injuries and will forever be damaged,” the lawsuit alleged.
Walia is suing the downtown Los Gatos restaurant and its owner, along with the chef who cooked the item, the waitress who took her order, and anyone at the restaurant that day or before who “in any way influenced, designed, prepared, or participated in creating the Dragon Ball dish,” according to the lawsuit.
Walia went to dinner with a friend in July 2021 at the downtown North Santa Cruz Avenue restaurant and they ordered appetizers including Dragon Balls, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The dish is currently described on the restaurant’s website as “spicy chicken” balls with mint, shallot, green onion, cilantro, kaffir lime leaf and chili, for $11.
“The dish was advertised as spicy, so Ms. Walia asked her server to have it made with less spice as she does not tolerate spicy foods,” the lawsuit claimed. “The server said that they would have the chef make them less spicy.”
Walia alleged that almost immediately after she began eating the Dragon Balls, she “felt her entire mouth, the roof of her mouth, her tongue, her throat and her nose burn like fire,” and that her “eyes and nose watered, and she began coughing.”
She started to lose her voice and was diagnosed later with internal “chemical burns” from the chilis in the Dragon Balls, she claimed in the lawsuit.
A supervisor at Coup de Thai said by phone Monday that the restaurant had never previously had a patron say they had been burned by a dish and needed medical attention. Dragon Balls, said supervisor Luck Pryer, are spicy, but “we do not use too much chili spice in Dragon Balls.” However, it is not possible for the appetizer to be made in a “mild” version as the chili is inside the balls, Pryer said. If a patron wants to order Dragon Balls but says they cannot handle spicy foods, they are typically encouraged to order something else, Pryer said.
Pryer said she was working the night Walia dined at Coup de Thai, and that Walia came to the restaurant the next day saying her throat had been burned and she needed to go to the doctor.
Walia could not be reached to answer questions about her purported diagnosis and injuries. State medical records show a Harjasleen Walia with the same middle initial is a doctor at HeadacheAwayMD Brain & Spine Center in San Jose, which lists her online as a neurologist on the medical team.
The lawsuit points a finger at Thai “bird’s eye” chili as the ingredient that made Walia’s Dragon Balls allegedly “unfit for human consumption.” The restaurant’s owner, chef, server and others involved with the appetizer “failed to take precautions by consulting with health officials or emergency service personnel regarding the risks associated with serving too much Thai chili in an appetizer like Dragon Balls,” the lawsuit claimed.
And the defendants in the case “negligently failed to test the heat intensity” of the batch of Thai chilis “before, during and after it was used in the Dragon Balls” served to Walia, the lawsuit alleged.
The chef and waitress are identified only by occupation in the lawsuit, which also targets an owner named as Tanatcha Swangchaeng. Efforts to reach Swangchaeng on Monday were unsuccessful.
Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a physician at the Washington, D.C.-based National Capital Poison Center, told this news organization Monday that eating Thai chilis — spicier than cayenne peppers but not as spicy as habaneros — can irritate the mouth and throat and cause nausea and heartburn. But, Johnson-Arbor said, “they are not associated with permanent tissue damage.”
Walia is seeking unspecified damages, plus medical expenses and compensation for purportedly lost earnings. Her lawsuit also accused the defendants of failing to train Coup de Thai staff “to serve Thai iced tea or some other dairy-based product if a customer had a bad reaction to spice intensity.”
Right after her purported reaction to the Dragon Balls, Walia and her companion told a waitress that yogurt or another milk product “was needed because the dish was too spicy,” but “no milk, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream or other dairy product was provided or offered to Ms. Walia to quell the obvious burning,” the lawsuit alleged.
Walia, the lawsuit claimed, “drank an entire glass of coconut water and more water, but the burning did not subside.”
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