Edward Archbold died in Deerfield Beach, Florida at the Ben Siegel Reptile Store after winning a roach eating contest. According to news reports, Archbold collapsed outside the store after consuming handfuls of bugs and worms in the contest. Sadly, he later died at a local hospital.
As a Florida injury attorney, I can tell you that this is certainly one of the most unusual cases I have ever heard of. Despite the peculiarity of this case, it still raises a number of very common legal issues.
Given the information I have read in the media, which as you know is limited, I suspect that Edward Archbold’s family may be entitled to compensation for his death from the reptile store. In the following analysis, I will discuss some of the legal issues that come to mind and why I suspect that the reptile store may be liable for Archbold’s death.
When I first heard about this case I think I had the same reaction as most people. Namely, “What was that guy thinking?!?!? GROSS! Of course he died… he ate a large quantity of bugs and worms. DUH!?!?”
However, on second glance, there is one particular fact that keeps resonating in my mind and which makes me think differently about this case… the fact that Archbold was the ONLY person to get sick.
When you have food poisoning cases, such as ones we see aboard cruise ships, you get cases where large groups of people get sick… not just one person.
If a food item served to 30 people was poisonous it should have made all of them sick. This contest should have looked like the pie eating contest in the movie “Stand By Me.”
But it didn’t.
Only Edward Archbold got sick.
Based on this one fact, I draw three conclusions about the cause of his death:
1) There was something different about Archbold that caused him to react to the bugs in a way that was different from the other contestants.
2) There was something different about the particular bugs that Archbold ate, as opposed to the other contestants.
3) There was something different about Archbold and something different about the bugs that, when combined, caused him to get ill and ultimately die.
Some theories come to mind.
Maybe Archbold ate a bad bug? Im serious… maybe one or some of the bugs he personally ate were laced with poison. In the alternative, he may have suffered from a severe food allergy. Or, he may have consumed drugs that reacted to the bugs or a chemical present in the bugs.
Given these suspicions, I think the toxicology report and the medical examiner certification about cause of death will be the two single most important pieces of evidence in this case.
What else did Edward Archibold have to eat that day? Was he on any prescription or illicit medication? Does he have a history of heart problems, digestive problems, or allergies?
These and other questions will need to be asked before we can determine what really caused him to die.
However, one thing we know is certain: something different happened to him. Otherwise, we would see the 30 other people get sick as well.
Whenever an injury attorney analyzes a case, he/she is looking for three fundamental things. We have discussed this many times before on this blog.
1) Proof of Liability 2) Proof of Injury 3) Collectible/Insured Defendant
In this case, injury is obvious (a man is dead) and the reptile shop is most likely insured. The real question concerns liability.
In other words, can the reptile shop be held legally responsible for Edward Archbold’s death?
I suspect that they can be held accountable and that they will be held accountable.
The reptile shop’s best defense is to claim that Archbold knew what he was doing, signed some waiver, and assumed a measure of risk. In fact, it is the tone already being taken by an attorney who represents the reptile shop.
However, if anyone assumed risk in this case, it was the reptile shop. Such unorthodox marketing gimics are unwise and can create tremendous liability for business owners.
When a business assumes such a risky attention grabbing measure, they take their chances with premises liability and other forms of risk.
Lets not blame the victim. That would be classless.
The suggestion that Archbold assumed risk is also premature since we do not yet know the actual cause of death. Additionally, such a defense blindly assumes that Archbold died from consuming the bugs as opposed to other possible causes, like poison in or on the bugs, the presence of a single poisonous bug who got in the mix, or a severe allergic reaction – just to name a few.
You see, Archbold assumed a risk for eating “captive bred, sterile bugs.” He did not assume any risk for consuming poison or taking his chances with a substance he knew might cause a life threatening allergic reaction.
If this was a toad licking contest in the Amazon, things might be different.
By hosting the contest and inviting members of the public to participate, the reptile shop implicitly suggested that the bugs were safe to eat.
While I am sure they had Archbold sign waivers, I doubt those waivers will hold up in court if Archbold died from poisoning or an allergic reaction.
The reptile shop cannot also speak from both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, they cannot encourage participation in their “captive bred, sterile bug” eating contest and on the other hand tell everyone “don’t participate because it may kill you.”
Clearly, the overriding position of the reptile shop before the contest was that it was safe. Such encouragement undoubtedly played a role in Archbold’s participation, as well as the participation of the 30 or so other contestants.
Its not like Archbold signed up for a skydiving contest. People eat bugs all over the world and are fine. In fact, eating bugs is so common that it has a special name: Entomophagy.
People do not drop dead from eating bugs alone. Watch any episode of Fear Factor if you are unsure of this.
In fact, the more I think about this case, the more I seriously suspect that the toxicology report will come back positive for some kind of poison. If not, then I would secondarily suspect that Archbold had a severe allergic reaction.
As the host of this contest, the reptile shop had a duty to investigate the dangers of such an unorthodox promotion and advise its contestants of the real risks involved.
I doubt any meaningful research beyond contacting their attorney was done.
Moreover, if even one bug provided by the reptile shop was tainted or laced with roach poison, then the reptile ship is liable for Edward Archbold’s death. This contest was hosted by them, on their property, using bugs they provided.
The reptile shop had a duty to provide a safe contest.
When it comes to assuming risk, I am sure Archbold figured he might throw up later, have an upset stomach, or be left with a terrible taste in his mouth. I doubt, however, that he assumed any risk that would threaten his life.
If this turns out to be a chemical poisoning case, the fact that Archbold signed a waiver will be meaningless. I am sure he never waived the danger of consuming poison.
If this is an allergic reaction case, ultimate liability may hinge on the extent of the warnings on the waiver. Did the reptile shop warn that eating roaches and worms could cause a severe allergic reaction that may result in death?
Even so, they still were speaking out of both sides of their mouths. It is disengenuous to host a “captive bred, sterile bug” eating contest while also warning people that they may die.
I’m not buying it. The message from the reptile shop before the contest was one of safety, not danger (which is very different from contests like “Fear Factor” where people are challenged to do stunts that can clearly result in serious bodily injury or death – like jumping from buildings or helicopters).
Like many cases we write about on this blog, this one requires extensive follow up. Specifically, we need to know what exactly caused Edward Archbold’s death. Until that is known, it is impossible to draw any concrete conclusions or determine if the reptile shop can really be held accountable in a court of law.
However, I doubt it was the bugs alone.
I suspect that Archbold died from consuming a poison or from an allergic reaction.
If it was poison, then I think it is pretty clear that the reptile shop is liable. If it is an allergic reaction, I am sure the reptile shop will be liable as well for failing to warn of the risk of a fatal allergic reaction and for hosting such a dangerous competition.
Hopefully the reptile shop will do the right thing and offer some kind of settlement to Archbold’s family for his death. It would be the responsible thing to do. Not to mention, it would do a lot to fix their apocalyptic reputation problem.
No matter how unusual this case may be, we must not forget that a man has lost his life. My condolences go out to Archbold’s family. I hope they are able to seek peace one day and recover from their loss.