‘You feel like you’re burning from deep inside your bones’: Va. woman suing restaurant chain after getting debilitating disease from snake bite in foyer
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Rachel Myrick walked into a LongHorn Steakhouse in Spotsylvania County five years ago, and her life forever changed.
It sounds like something out of a movie, but Myrick was bitten by a venomous snake as she entered the restaurant’s foyer through its double doors. Soon after, the 40-year-old single mother was diagnosed with a debilitating disease.
Now, Myrick, who says she has relentless pain caused by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), is suing the restaurant chain for $25 million. She believes that the bite and her crippling pain could have been prevented.
A critical part of this lawsuit centers around whether or not a retention pond near the restaurant allegedly caused a snake problem inside the building and, if so, whether management knew about it and sufficiently took measures to prevent it.
Watching Myrick navigate slowly using crutches makes it hard to believe she spent her lifetime stunting and performing routines as a cheerleader. She coached her daughter’s team for a decade, and didn’t hesitate to join Germanna Community College’s cheer squad in her 30s when she returned to school for business classes. In between, shuttling her kids to practice while working real estate deals in the car were the norm.
That was five years ago. Today, even the touch of our clip-on microphone near Myrick’s neck was too sensitive for her to handle.
“I have more than 75 percent of my body that is in so much pain; that it’s almost impossible to describe. You feel like you’re burning from deep inside your bones,” she said of the disorder that now has spread throughout a majority of her body.
Myrick often needs help showering and getting dressed. Even a breeze on her skin can be painful.
In September of 2017, Myrick and her family walked into the LongHorn Steakhouse in Massaponax. It’s situated up the hill from a reedy retention pond. Within moments, the fast-paced, mom-of-two would never have the same momentum again.
“I felt like I had been stung on my foot, whether it was a wasp or bee,” she said.
But it wasn’t a bee; it was an 8-inch copperhead baby snake that slithered into the restaurant, biting her left foot three times.
“I had put my hand around my foot because, at this point, it was an absolute unbearable pain,” recalled Myrick. “That was pretty much the moment everything changed.”
Within about 20 minutes of the snake bike, Rachel was admitted to the hospital and ultimately given four vials of anti-venom. Her foot and entire leg swelled multiple times larger than normal size, turning purple and grey.
“It was massive,” she said.
But the aching and constant discoloration only persisted, even after doctors told Myrick she should be back to normal in a few months.
“By the time that I hit two months, my pain had more than doubled,” Myrick said.
Myrick was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). It’s not certain whether the bite itself or the anti-venom, which many people have strong reactions to, caused the disorder.
CRPS is an uncommon and severely disabling disorder that can happen after an injury to a limb or other trauma to the body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, nerve function becomes abnormal, causing a drastic over-sensitivity to pain. Basically, your nervous system can’t shut off its pain signal.
Years after the incident, the woman who once hiked mountains and ran marathons, can now hardly maneuver her way out of a car without crushing discomfort. When asked about the last time she was able to physically hug her teenage son or daughter, currently away at college, Myrick stumbled through tears.
“I can hug them. They can’t hug me,” she managed.
Myrick can lightly hold her arms around her children, almost pretending to hug them. That is all her disease will allow.
“I’m in the worst pain you could possibly imagine,” she said.
You’ll often hear CRPS referred to as the “suicide disease” since it ranks the highest on the McGill Pain Index, prompting a significant percentage of patients to consider taking their lives or actually going through with the act.
Myrick says that’s off the table since she lives for her children and loving fiancé, Michael Clem. She and Clem have lived together since the onset of her disease. Myrick is unable to work, and Clem spends much of his time taking care of her, giving up his job.
Myrick has seen dozens of doctors and tried many treatments, including heavy-duty pain pills like morphine. She also had two spinal cord stimulators surgically implanted. Her medical bills now total over $1 million. Before the snake bite, Myrick and Clem together brought in about $300,000 a year as realtors. Now, Myrick said her savings are almost diminished and bordering on bankruptcy. A pain treatment Myrick would desperately like to try, ketamine shots, cost $15,000 per injection.
Myrick says she initially wasn’t going to sue until the story of her snake bite went viral.
“Things started coming out on social media that this isn’t the first snake they’ve seen there (at the restaurant),” she said.
Myrick filed suit against the parent company of Longhorn Steakhouse, Rare Hospitality International, and the restaurant manager at the time. The lawsuit claims snakes were spotted in the restaurant in three places: storage areas for produce and high chairs and a loading area. Court documents also say the restaurant didn’t take up the exterminator on a “one-shot pest elimination service.” Myrick’s attorneys further argue that Virginia’s food regulation laws require pests to be controlled or minimized.
“If the treatment was done when you saw them (snakes), then I very likely wouldn’t be in the position I am today. My family wouldn’t be in the position they’re in, and all of our lives would be different.”
Myrick’s 17-year-old son Dylan now works two jobs while finishing his senior year in high school, helping his family since his mother cannot work.
“It is very painful watching her always struggle,” said Dylan. “She was always the tough one, telling us like that everything would be okay. And now, we got to watch over her when she’s sitting there crying half the day and can’t move the other half the day.”
In court filings, attorneys for LongHorn Steakhouse argue a party can’t be held liable for a wild animal attack in Virginia. But, a judge or jury may ultimately have to decide if there’s a difference between a wild animal and what would be considered a pest, like a bee, a rat- or a snake. Longhorn Steakhouse attorneys also point to a lack of detail about the alleged snake sightings. They also say even if snakes were lurking near the restaurant - which they deny - destroying the nest would be illegal since snakes are not considered nuisance animals.
NBC12 reached out to Longhorn Steakhouse and its attorney for an interview or statement, which they declined.
Under Virginia civil law, this case could get tossed out at its next hearing this Monday, a demurrer, if the judge rules there’s not enough of a legal cause for it to move forward. Myrick fears the appeals process will be a difficult road ahead.
“You knew there was a problem, and if you don’t do anything about it. Eventually, there’s going to be a consequence. Unfortunately, I’m the consequence,” said Myrick.
Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.
Want NBC12’s top stories in your inbox each morning? Subscribe here.