Firehouse Subs' Decor Led to Choking Death, Lawsuit Says | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Florida Widow Blames Firehouse Subs’ Firefighter Theme for Husband’s Choking Death

Firehouse Subs is a chain restaurant that whips up hot sandwiches. The shop has a firefighting theme: firefighters’ equipment and memorabilia are mounted on the walls in stores. However, according to one lawsuit filed last month in Palm Beach County, this firefighting theme and décor was taken literally by staff, making some believe that they, too, could save lives.

Sadly, no one could save Mario Skoff. On March 24, 2014, the 77-year-old was eating a turkey sandwich at a Firehouse Subs on NE Fifth Ave. in Boca Raton. Suddenly, Skoff started choking. Firehouse Subs’ staff darted toward him and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but allegedly without clearing Skoff’s blocked airway. According to the complaint, this pushed the piece of turkey sandwich further down his esophagus. Skoff died. 

Two years later, Skoff’s widow, Maryann, is still devastated, her attorney Mike Glasser tells New Times. She is now suing Firehouse Subs for her husband’s wrongful death, claiming that the firefighting theme made staff brazen enough to try to attempt CPR — instead of waiting for the actual first responders to arrive. The suit accuses franchise owners Doroty and Edvard Dessalines for not training their employees how to treat choking victims.

“The theme and décor of fire-fighting, emergency rescue, and EMS at Firehouse Subs constituted an inducement by Defendant A Family Investment Inc. to its employees to intervene and render aid to Decedent,” the complaint says.

It goes on: “It is reasonably foreseeable that employees would have a desire to help customer/choking victims, and, having either inadequate training or no training in safely rendering aid to choking victims, or having not been instructed to stand clear and call 911 in case of choking emergencies, reasonably foreseeably poses a substantial risk to choking victims by exacerbating the hazard presented by choking.”

A spokesperson for Firehouse Subs was unable to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Attorney Mike Glasser tells New Times: “CPR would not be the first option when someone is choking. It only exacerbates it by forcing food further into the airway, whereas the Heimlich maneuver is what everyone considers to be the only logical option.”

Florida law dictates that every food service establishment posts a sign illustrating how to perform the Heimlich maneuver in a “conspicuous place” for “rendering emergency first aid to a choking victim.” It further states that “the establishment be responsible for familiarizing its employees with the method of rendering such first aid.”

Firehouse Subs is a Jacksonville-based chain formed in 1994 by former firefighters. With franchises sprinkled throughout North America, Firehouse Subs rolls 66 million subs a year. The lawsuit alleges that Firehouse doesn't do enough to train employees how to respond to choking emergencies: “As a result of the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation being done without clearing the airway, the obstruction of partially chewed sandwich was forced down and lodged in Decedent’s trachea...As a direct and proximate cause of Firehouse subs employees forcing the obstruction further down Decedent’s trachea, Decedent died.”

According to his obituary, Mario Skoff was born in Croatia but moved to New York. That’s where he met Maryann when he was 18. The couple married and had six children and 18 grandchildren. Skoff served in the Coast Guard and CIA. The obituary states: “He was a dedicated husband, father, grandfather, and best friend who was loved by all and had a magnetic personality...He spoke many languages and made people feel very comfortable and telling funny jokes...He loved to dance. We all miss him dearly.”

Glasser informs New Times that litigation is in its early stages and that Firehouse Subs has yet to submit an answer to the suit. 
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson

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