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NIAGARA FALLS — A Falls man is suing a local Tim Hortons Coffee Shop for emotional distress, claiming that he "suffered great mental harm" after finding a human hair in his breakfast sandwich at the height of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Niagara County by Elbert Welch. He lists only a post office box mailing address as a means of contact in his complaint.

He lists as defendants, Tim Hortons, 3024 Pine Ave., Tim Hortons Inc. and an unknown male employee and unknown female employee of the Falls location of the coffee and doughnut company. 

Tim Hortons is a division of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which franchises it and other fast food eateries including Burger King and Popeyes. The franchisee of the Pine Avenue Tim Hortons location has been previously identified as Robert Burns.

In additional to seeking a multi-million dollar award for compensatory and punitive damages, Welch is also demanding that the "hair involved" be tested to see if the person it came from was "infected with the coronavirus or other disease(s) that could be transmitted."

According to Welch's complaint, on May 21, he purchased two sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches from the Pine Avenue Tim Hortons location. Because of a New York State Executive Order that closed indoor sales at fast food restaurants, Welch made his purchase through location's drive-thru lane and window.

"While eating and consuming almost half of one of the sandwiches, I discovered a string of hair wrapped inside the sandwich that I was eating from," Welch wrote in his court filing. "I stopped eating the sandwich and secured the string of hair as evidence."

Welch claims that he returned to the Pine Avenue coffee shop and told the two employees he says served him about his discovery of a strand of hair in his food. He said when he "attempted to show them the string of hair" they "instructed me to dispose of the hair in the garbage."

"However, I secured the hair and kept it as evidence,"Welch wrote in his complaint. "I currently retain the string of hair as evidence."

Welch claims that neither of the employees he encountered "wore hats or face masks" which would have been required by Niagara County Health Department regulations and the terms of the governor's executive order. He said the employees replaced the two sandwiches.

"At the time of this event, all defendants well knew that there had existed a worldwide coronavirus pandemic which required social distancing, wearing of masks and a high degree of precautionary measures to protect against spreading the coronavirus to others," Welch said. "I have no way of knowing if the food consumed by me was/was not contaminated with the COVID-19 virus or other transmissible disease."

Welch charges that hair should be tested because he has suffered "great mental harm from possibly being infected with coronavirus or other transmissible disease from my consumption of food purchased from Tim Hortons." He wants the results of any testing on the hair disclosed to him.

If the employees were to be found to have been infection with the novel coronavirus at the time of the incident, Welch seeks an additional $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages. 

The lawsuit was filed on June 11. A call to the attorney representing Tim Hortons, Joseph Schnitter, was not immediately returned.

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