PORTLAND (AP) – A woman who claims she was sickened by an undercooked Wendy’s burger says the pain she endured was worse than she remembered when she gave birth. But Wendy’s contends the woman’s illness was likely caused by a pre-existing blood disorder.

Diane Roney was hospitalized for 12 days and her lawyers hope to convince a federal jury it was because of a E. coli contamination from a raw burger at Wendy’s in Saco.

The elementary school teacher is seeking $83,000 for medical expenses and lost wages, as well as additional damages, from the national fast food chain based in Dublin, Ohio.

Roney’s trial, which opened Monday, comes 16 months after a California woman made national news by claiming that she found a human finger in a bowl of Wendy’s chili. That claim was determined to be a hoax, but Wendy’s lost $2 million in business.

The company opted against settling Roney’s lawsuit because it feels Roney’s illness was not caused by the burger. “We feel strongly that we were not responsible,” company spokesman Bob Bertini said from Ohio.

Roney, 57, of Standish, went to the Wendy’s with her husband on March 1, 2001. Her husband said he went to the bathroom and saw a Wendy’s employee put his hands under running water instead of washing them with soap. Improper hand-washing can lead to food contamination.

When he returned to the table, Roney took two bites from her bacon cheeseburger before deciding to cut it in half because it was messy. That’s when she said she realized the meat was raw and oozing blood onto the wrapper.

Roney’s lawyer, Michael Waxman, said she was sickened by E. coli bacteria and could have died. Dr. Owen Pickus, a physician hired by Roney, is expected to testify that the most common mode of E. coli transmission is from undercooked meat, particularly hamburgers. Pickus determined her illness was consistent with E. coli poisoning.

Wendy’s lawyer Joshua Vincent said Roney suffered from a pre-existing blood disorder that led to a prior hospitalization.

Vincent said the company also would prove that Roney’s symptoms do not match those associated with E. coli poisoning, and that company-wide quality control procedures would make contamination impossible.

Wendy’s will counter with its own medical experts, including Dr. Erika D’Agata, assistant professor of infectious disease at Harvard Medical School.

She’s expected to testify that Roney did not have any of the classic symptoms, including bloody diarrhea, high fever and elevated white blood cell counts.

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