November 27, 2013
One of the more famous of these lawsuits is Liebeck v. McDonald’s, which is more popularly known as the hot coffee lawsuit.
In Liebeck, McDonald’s was sued over the extremely hot temperature at which one of its locations served its coffee. The temperature of the coffee was the cause of a customer’s extensive third-degree burns in her groin and thigh area (and led to eight days’ hospitalization).
McDonald’s is now facing another lawsuit over the alleged defectiveness of one of their products, though it’s unlikely that this more recent one will rise to Liebeck’s level of notoriety.
That lawsuit, filed this week in Luzerne County Court in Pennsylvania, claims that McDonald’s sold to the plaintiff, Jesse Shyner, “a Chicken McNugget with cockroach parts.”
If you are wondering what such a Chicken McNugget would look like, the complaint is kind enough to provide a photograph:
The complaint goes on to describe the incident:
After purchasing the food on October 6, 2013, from a local McDonald’s, “Shyner bit into a Chicken McNugget…and swallowed part of a cockroach.”
Immediately afterward, he suffered “illness, injury, and harm,” which seem to mostly be food poisoning and related ailments (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, etc). The complaint also alleges that Shyner has “been unable to fully enjoy his life, society, family, and recreation and will be so harmed in the future.” Shyner also paid a visit to the hospital emergency room immediately following the incident, and underwent varies treatments and diagnostics while there.
That’s about as much specificity as the complaint provides as far as damages. There’s no question that it would be horribly disgusting (and, to many, quite traumatic) to bite into a Chicken McNugget that was deep fried with a cockroach inside (and forensic tests conducted on the unfinished McNugget – which has been preserved as evidence – confirmed that it was, indeed, a cockroach).
Why do I bring up the damages element?
Because potential damages is the springboard for settlement discussions, and if a prospective damages number seems low, a defendant will be less likely to settle for an amount that is satisfactory to the plaintiff – if the defendant is willing to settle at all.
In this case, however, McDonald’s has extra incentive to settle this suit as quickly as possible – the above photograph depicting a Chicken McNugget with a cockroach limb protruding from it that will undoubtedly make its way around the Internet as long as the suit is active (although settling the suit would likely only slow, rather than stop, this dissemination).
From a litigation perspective, this case contrasts quite sharply with Liebeck: although the source of the injury in Liebeck seemed far less egregious than in Shyner’s case, Liebeck’s compensatory damages figure (in the low six figures) is likely several times the number of Shyner’s case (the high compensatory damages in Liebeck was due to the plaintiff needing reconstructive surgery and two years of medical treatment because of her burns).
Unlike Liebeck, though, McDonald’s and other corporations (with a vested interest in tort reform) will find it quite difficult to frame Shyner’s lawsuit as “frivolous” (I mean, there is an actual cockroach leg sticking out of the McNugget).
So far, McDonald’s has done a fairly good job keeping this lawsuit as quiet as possible.
But the more word spreads, the more likely they are to settle – despite the fact that Shyner’s damages number is likely far smaller than other lawsuits McDonald’s has faced.