You Won't Believe Why These Restaurants Were Sued
By Dan Myers, The Daily Meal, 10 November 2014.
By Dan Myers, The Daily Meal, 10 November 2014.
It’s been said time and time again that we live in a litigious society, where everybody sues everybody over seemingly miniscule offenses. While most people are perfectly fine with handling their disagreements without getting lawyers involved, for others it’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever they feel that they’ve been slighted. And for some reason, restaurants tend to be in these people’s crosshairs.
There are, of course, some legitimate reasons to sue a restaurant. If you feel that you’ve been discriminated against because of your race, gender, etc., it’s perfectly acceptable to sue. If the floor was slippery and you fell and broke an arm, try your luck. If they promised that no shellfish was in a dish but they included it anyway, leading to an allergic reaction, they can certainly expect to have a lawsuit on their hands. But the line between what is and what isn’t acceptable to sue over isn’t exactly cut-and-dried, and occasionally restaurants are sued for completely ridiculous reasons.
In most of these cases, judges take one look at the suit before throwing it out and moving on to more important matters. But in some circumstances these cases actually make it to trial, and plaintiffs have occasionally walked away with millions of dollars over offenses that most people wouldn’t even briefly consider suing over.
Some frivolous lawsuits are the work of the compulsively litigious; those who are seemingly constantly suing someone for one reason or another, hoping that something will stick and they’ll walk away with a hefty payday. Others legitimately believe that their complaint is reasonable, that the restaurant was in the wrong, and they deserve to be paid. Read on to learn about nine times when restaurants were sued for shocking, bizarre, or downright silly reasons; some are still being tried, some were thrown out, some were settled, and some made their plaintiffs very rich.
1. Yul Brenner vs. Trader Vic’s
Back in 1973, actor Yul Brenner (best known for portraying the King of Siam in The King and I) ate some pork spare ribs at the New York outpost of legendary Tiki-themed restaurant Trader Vic’s, located in the basement of the Plaza Hotel. He came down with a case of trichinosis for which he blamed on the restaurant, and sued for US$3 million. The case was settled out of court four years later; Brenner was awarded US$125,000 and the restaurant vowed to serve only well-done meat going forward.
2. Hot Hash
Photo: John Herschell/Wikimedia Commons
In July 2010, a woman named Allysen Kauppinen dropped into a Ypsilanti, Michigan, restaurant called Luca’s and ordered eggs and corned beef hash. Unfortunately for her, the hash was scorching hot, and it allegedly burned her mouth. Instead of complaining, she took the restaurant to court, seeking US$25,000 in damages for the “great emotional upset, embarrassment, and pain” the traumatic event caused. No details are available on how the case played out.
3. Hot Coffee
One of the most famous (and infamous) lawsuits of all time, this one stems from a very hot cup of McDonald’s coffee that was served to one Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old Albuquerque woman who was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car when it spilled on her lap. The normal coffee temperature is around 140 degrees, but this was closer to 190, leading to third-degree burns over six percent of her body. She took McDonald’s to court, and was awarded US$160,000 in compensatory damages and US$2.7 million in punitive damages, which a court later reduced to US$480,000. Both sides appealed, and the case was settled out of court of an undisclosed sum, but the case went down in history as a textbook example of an overly-litigious society.
4. Napkin Discrimination
All Webster Lucas wanted was an extra napkin with his McDonald’s order, but upon being asked for it, the manager on duty reportedly became argumentative and mumbled something that the African-American Lucas took to be racially discriminating. Lucas was "unable to work because of the undue mental anguish and the intentional infliction of emotional distress," and is suing the chain for US$1.5 million.
5. Mean Restroom Mirror
Under what circumstances do you think it would be appropriate to sue over a restroom mirror? For one disabled customer at a California restaurant called La Casita Mexicana, the mirror being too high for customers in wheelchairs set off a lawsuit. The plaintiff had in fact filed more than 500 Americans with Disabilities Act-related lawsuits, and when surveillance footage revealed that he’d never even visited the restaurant, the case was thrown out.
6. Fattening Fast Food
Photo: Samatarou/Wikimedia Commons
A man named Caesar Barber was dealing with obesity and other related health problems stemming from eating fast food four or five times per week, so he decided to do something about it: no, not to start exercising and eating healthier, but to sue McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC. In a class-action lawsuit filed with other fast-food junkies, he demanded that fast food chains "offer a larger variety to the consumers, including non-meat vegetarian, less grams of fat, and a reduction of size.” The case was dismissed a year later.
7. Car Crash
Photo: Heike Tillmann/Wikimedia Commons
If an underage woman drinks excessively at a sports bar, gets behind the wheel, and then crashes her car, who’s responsible, her or the bar? Most would agree that the woman, 20-year-old Chelsea Hess, shouldn’t have been drinking in the first place, but she still sued the Bluffton South Carolina restaurant where she over-imbibed for negligence. She also sued the state’s department of transportation for not properly maintaining the road she was driving on when she crashed. No word on how the lawsuit played out.
8. “There’s a Finger in My Chilli!”
Here’s an odd one: In 2005, a woman named Anna Ayala filed a claim against a Wendy’s franchise owner after claiming that she found a human fingertip in her chilli. The negative publicity reportedly cost the chain more than US$21 million in lost sales, but authorities simply could not figure out where in the supply chain the finger could have made its way into the chilli. The culprit? Ayala herself, whose husband took the finger from a co-worker who lost it in a work-related accident so that she could hide it in her dinner. Ayala was found guilty of extortion and served four years in prison.
9. Shorted on Sandwiches
After Subway was caught red-handed selling “footlong” sandwiches that were actually only 11 inches long, three class-action lawsuits were filed in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. “The length of the bread baked in the restaurant cannot be assured each and every time as the proofing process may vary slightly each time in the restaurant,” Subway countered, but the 11 plaintiffs didn’t give up, and the case was settled a year later.
Top image: YouTube screen shot.
[Source: The Daily Meal. Edited. Top image added.]