Fake meat to coffee crotch: Our top five favorite restaurant lawsuits
Dunkin' Donuts is being sued again. Danielle Jordan, 47, a diabetic, alleges that the cup of coffee she ordered from her local DDs was laced with sugar instead of the artificial sweetener she'd asked for, and is seeking "unspecified damages" (code for a shload of coinage) after allegedly experiencing physical symptoms that sent her to the emergency room.
Her statements on court documents reveal that she "had to increase her diabetic medication" and "sustained a loss of life's enjoyment" due to Dunkin' Donuts' "defective product."
If I sued everyone and everything that caused me to lose enjoyment in life, then I would have even less of a life than I do now, and since I slept through my sue-everything-that-wiggles 101 class in college, I have no pecking clue how to quantify loss of life enjoyment and turn that into a bag of unmarked bills. I should have gotten a cup of Dunkin' Donuts' coffee to stay awake.
But Dunkin' Donuts is not the first, nor will it be the last restaurant to get bitch-slapped through the judicial system and disgruntled diners. Here 's our list of the top five favorite restaurant lawsuits (some with merit, some without). We won't ask if you want sugar or Splenda with it....
Taco Bell was recently sued by an Alabama-based law firm, which alleged that the chain's beef was only 36 percent meat and 64 percent other stuff. But Taco Bell defended itself like a rabid Chihuahua, claiming that its beef filling was actually 88 percent beef and 12 percent other stuff. It was a P.R. clash of the titans, with Taco Bell invoking the gilded principle of Vox populi, vox Dei or, for those who, like myself, only know a few cute Latin phrases to show off at parties, "the voice of the people is the voice of God."
Taco Bell pimp-smacked the firm of Beasley Allen by taking its case straight to the people, telling the masses that the faux meat allegations were basically a giant crap-cicle, and then giving away ten million free tacos on Facebook, raining free food down on us like 88 percent-meated-manna from corporate heaven. Loyalty can be bought -- cheaply, as it turns out -- and the suit was dropped like a hot bag of Cinnamon Twists.
Denny's got served up a couple of major class-action suits in the '90s, one alleging that some of its restaurants were treating African-American customers like inconveniences -- and liabilities. This suit was nastier than the Denny's maple bacon sundae: some of the codified complaints against the hash-slinging chain included black customers being asked to pay for their meals before being served, and getting pushed aside to wait while white customers got seating preferences.
Denny's wisely decided to settle in 1994, shelling out $54 million, hiring a Los Angeles-based civil-rights lawyer to be its watchdog against any further infractions, kissing up to the NAACP by promising to hire and promote more black workers, chunking an additional $1.5 million in "minority media," and appointing the first African-American to the board of directors of its parent company. Good start -- but I think another case could be made against Denny's for its lousy food alone.
Applebee's got hit with a lawsuit back in April when the parents of a fifteen-month-old child ordered an apple juice, and then noticed that the poor kid was wasted off his tricycle. When the parents took the tipsy toddler to the hospital, he was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.10 and reportedly suffered from "headaches, nausea and other classic hangover symptoms for a period of days after the incident." The family sued, claiming the apple juice was actually a margarita,
Applebee's, in an ass-protecting but really un-savvy statement from its parent company, responded by alleging that there were "discrepancies" in the story, claiming that the child's actual blood alcohol level was only 0.014 -- but I'm pretty sure that the broader point here is that the kid shouldn't have had ANY alcohol in his bloodstream. In any case, Applebee's has vowed to serve apple juice from single-serve containers from now on -- a smart move because kids have enough to deal with growing up in this sick, crazy world without worrying about getting a vodka gimlet in a sippy cup, or how to explain to their preschool teachers that they were late to class because of their "Tiny Tots" A.A. meetings.
She didn't watch enough CSI shows, apparently.
2. Wendy's "Chilifinger" lawsuit.
Anna Ayala's husband's co-worker had gotten his finger whacked off in a work accident, so she and her husband paid the guy $100 to take it off his hand(s) -- and Anna proceeded to sneak it into a Wendy's, and then throw a piss-fit claiming that she'd found it in her chili and yorfed. After that, she raced her quasi-victimized ass to an attorney's office and hit the talk-show circuit. But the cops found none of the aforementioned yorf at the scene, the finger wasn't cooked to the level that Wendy's chili normally is, and it looked like Anna's story was missing a few beans.
She dropped the suit shortly after the cops raided her house. The subsequent investigation found the hapless former owner of the digit, and revealed that Anna had both a criminal and a litigious history; she and her hubby were charged with conspiracy and grand theft. She served four years of her nine-year sentence in the gray bar motel; her hubs is still in. Their stunt cost Wendy's $2.5 million in damages.
"I think about it every day," Ayala told San Francisco's Channel 5 news "What was I thinking?"
This lawsuit is considered to be the godfather of frivolous restaurant litigation, much like Neil Young is the godfather of grunge and Senator Rick Santorum the godfather of the Tea Party movement (and an interesting sexual scenario a la Dan Savage). Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants began in 1992 when 79-year-old Stella Liebeck bought a cup of coffee, stuck it between her knees, popped the lid off, and dumped the coffee on her "thighs, buttocks and groin," sustaining third-degree burns that required two years of medical treatment.
This case lit up advocates of tort reform, ushered in a significant legal precedent for restaurant-based product liability suits, and quickly became a punch line that persists to this day. After educating myself on the particulars of this case (are most people even aware of the facts of the case?) I actually had a rare, partial position change.
Liebeck didn't start out going for McDoo's collective kneecaps. She actually asked the restaurant to compensate her only for her medical expenses and loss of income, which doesn't seem unreasonable to me, since I'm sure skin-grafting isn't cheap. The company refused, instead offering her $800, and she refused. It got out of hand and finally ended with a jury assigning comparative negligence of McDonald's at 80 percent, Liebeck at 20 percent, and awarding her $640,000. It really would have been far less public, dramatic and expensive for McDonald's to just pay the damn medical bills. Both parties settled out of court with regard to the actual monetary award, "for an undisclosed amount less than $600k."
I did say a partial position change. Hot coffee is served hot, there was a warning on the cup, and common sense should have been a factor in Liebeck's choice to be her own barista in a vehicle seat. But wait for it.... the initial suit claims she endured "loss of life's enjoyment during the pendency of treatment."
I really should have paid more attention in college.