Last November, Stacey Wagers was celebrating her birthday with a friend at the Maritana Grille at the Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach, Florida and, what started as a low-key celebration ended with a multi-day stay in intensive care, permanent digestive issues, and a lawsuit.
After they finished their meal, the two women watched their waiter serve a dessert at a nearby table that started to smoke when he poured a liquid over it. They thought it looked "cool"—her friend's word—and told him so. The waiter responded by pouring that same substance into their water glasses, and almost immediately after Wagers took a drink, she became violently, painfully ill.
"There was an explosion in my chest," she told NBC News. "I couldn't speak. I felt like I was dying." That's probably because the waiter allegedly topped off their water with liquid nitrogen, an extremely cold chemical with a temperature that ranges between -346 degrees and -320 degrees. (Yes, it's the same chemical that's often used in cryotherapy chambers, and also to freeze off warts.)
Because of that one sip, Wagers had to have her gallbladder and part of her stomach lining removed. "She lost about 26 pounds as a result of this because she couldn't eat," Wagers' attorney Adam Brum told ABC Action News. "She had to have laparoscopic surgery where they go in and actually scrape away the dead portions of tissue that was in her stomach from being frozen. The initial injury was to the tissue in her stomach, which they went in and had to do surgery on. And, then it turned out that this had done damage to her gallbladder, she had to have that removed."
On Friday, Wagers filed a lawsuit for more than $15,000 in damages from Bethesda, Maryland-based Host Hotels & Resorts, from the Don CeSar Hotel, and from Don CeSar food and beverage director Carlos Cepero.
In 2015, a British wine bar was fined £100,000 ($125,620) for serving a liquid nitrogen shot to a teenager who was celebrating her 18th birthday. Gaby Scanlon was given a Nitro-Jagermeister shot at Oscar's Wine Bar and Bistro and, much like Wagers, she said she felt "agonizing pain" immediately after drinking it. She was immediately taken to the hospital, and had to have her entire stomach surgically removed.
"The [Preston Crown Court] say the company is culpable for the injuries," prosecutor Prosecutor Barry Berlin said. "They failed to ensure the safety of its customers. They served liquid nitrogen shots in cocktails without considering any suitable risk assessment. The serious injuries suffered show a failure by the company to ensure her safety. They knew it was dangerous and they didn't properly police it."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has advised against eating or drinking any foods or drinks that have had liquid nitrogen added to them just before being served. "The FDA has become aware of severe—and in some cases, life-threatening—injuries, such as damage to skin and internal organs caused by liquid nitrogen still present in the food or drink," the agency wrote. "Injuries have occurred from handling or eating products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption, even after the liquid nitrogen has fully evaporated due to the extremely low temperature of the food."
And let's be honest, it doesn't even look that cool.