All posts by Amanda

I’m suing the internet for making me lazy

I’m not really, but by looking into the history of complaints lodged against McDonald’s over the span of its lifetime, it sounds like a legitimate court case anyone like me could easily open, and win.

McDonald's

In recent years, the fast food franchise has come under fire in the press, having the finger pointed squarely in the face of the McDonald’s bosses for obesity pandemics, particularly in the USA.

If I eat McDonald’s every day, I will get fat. If spend all day every day on the internet, I will get lazy. If I watch Titanic, I will be upset that I don’t know a real-life Jack Dawson. I am not going to call up a lawyer the next day and attempt to sue Leonardo DiCaprio for giving me false expectations of romance.

The point is, franchises including fast food chains are going to attempt to mislead us in any way possible to get us to buy their product. Fashion designers use the most amazingly attractive men and women to sell their clothes that you’re almost convinced these people were made in a laboratory somewhere at the age of 21. The truth of that matter is that a mix of good genes and lashings of Photoshop goes a long way to obtaining a particularly marketable image.

And these truths are no secret, thanks to the ultimate freedom-of-speech platform known as the internet, you don’t need to be a highly skilled journalist to expose your opinion to the world. We know that cut-out dress Beyoncé wore to the VMA’s isn’t going to look quite as alluring on us, but we’ll try and find one just like it anyway. Just like we know amidst our conscience there’s a little bugging voice telling us we should probably carry on walking as we reach a McDonald’s and seek out a much healthier option. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. That is our choice.

Of course we are somewhat protected by the thin veil of “false advertising”, which fortunately many governments around the globe have regulations to control. Still, organisations will find ways around their countries legislation and produce manipulative advertising campaigns. McDonald’s is no angel for such misbehaviours, but you only need to order a Big Mac once in your lifetime to know it’s not exactly what it says on the tin. McDonald’s has been forced to be more open and honest with consumers about the ingredients used in their products, and ordered to make the information about the contents of a meal and where their product is sourced from more accessible to the public, so if you really wanted to, you could make a more well-informed decision before turning off and into the drive-thru for a quick lunch. But do you really want to?

McDonald's Big Mac - false advertising

All that being said, it hasn’t stopped some McDonald’s fans suing the pants off the franchise for thousands of dollars, for the fault of what is essentially their own lack of self-control. Yes, McDonald’s representatives have heard many a gavel fall at the expense of their rattling pocket change, in cases that have ranged from the utterly horrifying to the downright absurd. Here is a look into some of the court battles our fiery-haired pal Ronald has come fact-to-face with:

“McDonald’s Forced Me Into Prostitution”

In 1982, a woman in California called Shelley Lynn worked behind the counter at a McDonald’s restaurant. It was there that she met franchise manager Keith Handley, and they quickly became an item. In 2012 it was reported Lynn was suing McDonald’s because Handley manipulated staff at the chain where she worked in to firing her so he could make her work as a Prostitute at a legal brothel instead. Lynn was fired, and a few years later in 1986 became a ‘top booker’ (according to Lynn) at a legal brothel in neighbouring state Nevada.

Lynn’s complaint is that Handley coerced two members of staff into making false statements about her, which eventually led to her dismissal for insubordination.

Wait, what? How is this McDonald’s fault?

The complaint states that McDonald’s failed to carry out a proper grievance policy for unfair dismissal, and that the company neglected to do a moral background check on Handley when the company sold franchises to him, subsequently leaving staff being under management of an ill-trained and manipulative leader. Despite all of this man’s supposed horrible and inexcusable qualities, Shelley Lynn became Mrs Keith Handley in 1988, the couple divorced several years later.

While it is sad that Ms Lynn felt her only option was to become a Prostitute, surely any blame that is going to be dished out here should be placed squarely on the shoulders of Mr Handley and not McDonald’s (except maybe the grievance thing)?

“McLibel” Case

McDonald’s launched a legal battle against two UK citizens in 1990 for distributing leaflets bearing the question “What’s wrong with McDonald’s?” and a selection of allegations regarding the franchises policies and practices. Despite the fact Helen Steele nor David Morris wrote the contents of the leaflets, they somehow became embroiled in the libel battle, which became the longest case of civil or criminal action in English legal history.

Helen Steel and David Morris

The case took 7 years to reach a conclusion, in which time the High Court ruled that McDonalds had been the victim of libelling, and awarded the company £60,000 in damages, which was later reduced to £40,000 on appeal. Steele and Morris said they had no intention of paying up, and instead accused the UK Government of breaching their human rights and failing to provide them with legal aid during the case. The pair were awarded £24,000 in damages plus costs. After the case came to much media attention and was eventually settled, the UK Government were forced to change legislation in cases of defamation, and it now stands that legal aid is sometimes available in exceptional libel cases.

“Man Successfully Sues McDonald’s For Making Him Fat”

An ex-employee of McDonald’s successfully sued the company in 2010 after he made claims that the free lunches provided made him fat. This case reminds me of that scene in Oliver Twist, all the kids are being fed gruel like a line of pigs at a trough, and despite the fact it has no nutritional value what-so-ever, Oliver still daringly asks “Please sir, can I have some more?” except gruel doesn’t make you fat, and Oliver was an orphan with no other option available to him.

The Brazilian man, who chose not to be named, was 32 at the time he opened the case and walked away with $17,500 in damages because his workplace made him fat. However ‘Fat’ in this case is a total of 65 lbs accumulated in 12 years; that equates to gaining 0.01 lbs a day.

Plaintiffs and prosecutors battling similar cases in the past have noted that McDonald’s must include additives in their food products that create a craving, which is similar to any addiction like smoking or illegal drug taking. Except it’s not really that similar, we don’t need to smoke or take illegal drugs in order to survive, but we do need to eat. McDonald’s have successfully capitalized on the human needs for survival and adapted it to be viewed as a pleasant experience. Which it is, if you treat it as a moderate consumption; I come back to the phrase self-control. It is devastating if you suffer health problems as a result of excessive consumption of addictive products like drugs, cigarettes or otherwise – but you can’t place the blame solely on the vendor of said products; consumers choice also plays a big part, and it’s treading dangerous territory to assume the general public lack the intelligence to conclude informed decisions themselves, especially with resources being vastly available in more recent years.

Katherine Ortega with Chicken Head

Woman Finds Chicken Head In Box Of Chicken Wings

This one is a less offensive complaint, I’d find it highly gross to discover an in-tact McNoggin in my box of chicken wings. That’s exactly what US woman Katherine Ortega thought when she discovered just that after purchasing a box from her local McDonald’s in Virginia, which was a product being tested in her area at the time. No law-suit was pressed by Ortega, but she did further her complaint to the press after she was unsatisfied with the offer of a refund and replacement meal by the manager. She allowed newspapers in her area to take pictures of the breaded chicken head in all its decapitated glory. Although the story was officially reported by various newspapers, the case is still to this day debated as a hoax.

Liebeck vs McDonald’s – The Hot Coffee Case

The case of Stella Liebeck vs McDonald’s is one of the most controversial and misconstrued McDonald’s lawsuits, and a good example of media sensationalism and spin-doctoring.

Stella Liebeck was 79 years old at the time she ordered a coffee to go from McDonald’s. She was in the passenger seat of her sons’ car when she accidentally spilled the contents of her cup onto her pelvic area, resulting in 3-degree burns. She required 8 days in hospital, during which she underwent a skin-graft, and 2 years of follow up treatment.

However, if you google Liebeck’s McDonald’s complaint for information, you’ll find most sources have mindlessly churned out distorted facts, especially where the plaintiff’s motives lie. Originally, Ms Liebeck opened a law suit for the purpose of having her medical bills paid off after McDonald’s offered her an insulting compensation of $800 worth of hush-money. In any logical persons mind, it makes sense to want to be reimbursed for charges medically incurred to fix an injury inflicted by a multi-billion dollar company’s product.

Stella Liebeck

Stella Liebeck suffered 3rd-degree burns to her pelvic area after spilling hot coffee at McDonald’s

But this was America, and this was the American media circus predominantly reporting on the case. Naturally, Stella Liebeck’s image and character were scrutinized as claims spiralled of the elderly retiree being another perpetrator of fraudulent court claims.

The trial took place in 1994, and Liebeck’s attorney discovered that McDonald’s were serving their coffee between the temperatures of 180–190 °F (82–88 °C), and liquid heated at 190 °F would cause 3-degree burns within 2-7 seconds. He put a case forward that other coffee distributors served their coffee at much lower and more acceptable temperatures. However, McDonald’s attorney retorted that other places offering the service of coffee dispensing served their coffee at the same temperatures, and that Stella Liebeck was at fault for spilling it on herself in the first place. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances that Liebeck had during the incident, many people believed she had been driving the car at the time – when in fact the car had not been moving at all, and the media reported the injuries were a lot less severe than what Miss Liebeck had actually suffered, and used the case as an excuse to call for better tort reform.

Stella Liebecks’ case was turned into somewhat of a laughing stock, and accused of making ludicrous accusations, when in fact McDonald’s could have done something to prevent this incident from occurring. Before Stella Liebecks complaint, they had battled a series of other complaints relating to similar incidents, and they chose to sit stagnant in their ways rather than a less dangerous way of producing coffee. Sure, at the time of Stella Liebecks misfortune, they were within the trading standards regulations for serving coffee at such a temperature – but they had completely ignored previous calls for temperature reduction from customers who had suffered at the hands of their neglect.

The New York Times reported a more factual account of Liebeck Vs McDonald’s in their edition of a Retro Report issue written about the case, you can see the video below:

The jury decided to award Stella $2.9 Million, even though she only requested the cost of her medical bills. Even so, Liebeck left the case with $500,000 of what she’d originally been awarded.

After Liebeck’s very public complaint came to a close, McDonald’s re-visited the packaging on their hot beverage products, and decided to issue the cup and lids they came in with a warning message of the hot liquid inside.

Stella Liebeck died in 2004, 10 years after the incident occurred, and almost 10 years before The New York Times published their report, and 10 years before most people started looking at this case in a different light.

“Pelman vs McDonald’s” and Supersize Me

In 2003, two New York residents Roberta Pelman and Israel Bradley filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of their respective children Ashley Pelman and Jazlyn Bradley. The claim was that McDonald’s had been the perpetrator of false advertising, and thus led the two parents to believe the food they served was of nutritional value and was safe to consume on a daily basis. Allowing the kids to eat McDonald’s every day lead to multiple health problems, including obesity and diabetes.

I'm Vomiting It

The two also argued that despite McDonald’s being under strict regulations of the New York State law to produce accessible information in the form of pamphlets and leaflets regarding the nutritional value and ingredients of their products, the restaurant were unable to provide such materials upon immediate request. Pelman and Bradley later dropped this complaint early on in the trial.

The federal judge dismissed the case, stating that the claims failed to prove the chain was to blame for the kids’ health problems. Most people described the case as frivolous and absurd.

The case sparked much in the way of independent film-maker Morgan Spurlock’s interest. Spurlock wrote, directed and starred in Supersize Me, a 30 day investigation into eating McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and documented the entire thing. His weight and cholesterol soared significantly, he experienced headaches, mood swings and sexual dysfunction. All the events were captured on camera, and the results were horrifying. But what did he expect?

Whilst Spurlock was right to bring attention to the enormous expansion of obesity in the USA and the contributing factors of the fast-food industry, it achieved little in the way of proving anything but the painfully obvious. Consumed as part of a balanced diet, eating a Big Mac meal every once in a while is, on the whole, harmless. Providing the results of consuming every item on the menu at least once, 3 times a day every day for an entire month is a lecture most of us could have done without. The film shockingly received a nomination for a Best Documentary feature at the Academy Awards, which one could argue was merited less to the content and information featured, and more to the fact that Spurlock provided 98 minutes of what America loves best; somebody making a spectacle of themselves.

After Supersize Me was released, McDonald’s quite openly placed a brief ad inviting people to visit a website where a debate was open surrounding the documentary, to see what they agreed and disagreed with.

Trailer for Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me”

Sports Sponsorship

Despite being a veteran of sports sponsorship for many years, including the Olympics and the World Cup, McDonald’s have been criticised for using sponsorship as a tact to introduce young people to the brand, and falsely advertises itself as a patron of promoting good health. They have a program available in the UK called KickStart, which provides support for youth football clubs in the community.

Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s Global chief brand officer, claims that the company’s sponsorship is less about obtaining recognition for the brand and more about reaching out to the franchisees who run the restaurants individually. Apparently, it costs McDonald’s more money long-term from sponsorship than it gains.

“For us, it is more a way of connecting back with our franchisees, who run most of our restaurants, and showing them the influence we have”, he says during a Sport Industry Group gathering.

“It also generates enthusiasm within the business. Most of our staff love football and most of our customers love football, so there is a very ‘sweet spot’ for us there, it is a glue that holds us all together.”

Complaints Procedure

McDonald’s restaurants are managed individually by different owners for each franchise, but they must uphold the standards of the McDonald’s corporation. You can contact each restaurant directly and lodge a complaint, but in the event it isn’t resolved by management, you can fill out a form on the official McDonald’s UK website, where you are invited to give your feedback in a grand total of 2,000 words. You must specify your name, home address, email address and which restaurant you visited.

Presumably, someone will get back in touch with you, but there’s no indication on the feedback form as to when this will be. There doesn’t appear to be an address on the UK website if you preferred to send a letter (at least there is no word count limitation in a letter), but there is one for the US.

There is a telephone number you can call provided on the website, which is probably for a head office or some other corporate personnel which may give you a better opportunity to explain your situation if your complaint is particularly laborious.

McDonald’s UK website: www.mcdonalds.co.uk

Telephone number: 08705 244 622

McDonald’s Advertisement in the UK