Ten Foodservice Lawsuits that Have Played Out in the Public Eye
Restaurant Consultant Aaron Allen has collected ten (in)famous foodservice and restaurant industry lawsuits, from McDonald’s to Wendy’s that have played out in the public eye.
In 1992 Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee that she had between her knees, scalding her thighs, buttocks and groin. The 79-year old woman, who later sued, suffered third-degree burns on six percent of her body. The lawsuit, which gained national attention, initially resulted in a jury awarding Liebeck $160,000 to cover medical expenses and an additional $2.7 million in punitive damages. The jury held McDonald’s 80% responsible and Liebeck, who resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 20% responsible for the accident. McDonald’s, who appealed the verdict, eventually settled the case with Liebeck for an undisclosed amount, less than $600,000.
A Brazilian judge in 2011 awarded a former McDonald’s manager $17,500 in damages after the man sued the burger behemoth for making him fat over the twelve years he was employed with the chain. The man, who charged in his suit that the free lunches were to blame along with ‘tasting’ to ensure food quality, has never been indentified. Court documents show the man gained 65 pounds over the 12-year period or 5.4 pounds per year. “We’re disappointed with this preliminary court ruling, as it’s not an accurate representation of our highly regarded work environment and culture,” McDonald’s said in a statement at the time.
Industry watchers were horrified in 2005 when a woman from Las Vegas claimed to have found a finger in her bowl of Wendy’s chili at a San Jose, California unit. Because of the adverse publicity sales at Wendy’s declined nationwide. Following the incident the FBI ran the fingerprint of the detached finger through its database with no matches found, and Wendy’s offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the source. As it turned out the woman, Anna Ayala, had a history of lawsuits, filing 13 in Nevada and California. Ultimately the finger was traced to an associate of Ayala’s husband who had lost the finger in an industrial accident. Ayala later pleaded guilty to conspiring to file a false claim and attempted grand theft.