At first, it was coffee. Now it’s chicken sandwiches and cancer. Perhaps the greatest propaganda tool for the insurance industry in its self-serving campaign against supposedly frivolous lawsuits is the so-called McDonalds Case where the plaintiff sued for spilling hot coffee on herself. Never mind the hundreds and hundreds of prior complaints against the coffee McDonalds deliberately super-heated in order to keep customers from realizing just how bad it tasted, or the third-degree burns to sensitive, private areas requiring grafting.
Carnival operator Frank Sutton sued McDonalds after suffering burns to his lips when he bit into a chicken sandwich at a McDonald’s at a truck stop in the far corner of southwest Virginia. Grease supposedly flew all over the inside of his mouth. He says the scars are still visible on his lower lip and that he has to take precautions to keep it out of the sun to avoid further damage.
The U.S. District Court dismissed the lawsuit, but the case was recently reinstated by the Circuit Court. The legal issue was the admissibility of testimony that a McDonalds employee saw the burns and said something to the effect of, “This is what happens to the sandwiches when they aren’t drained completely.” The appeals court, reversing the lower court, said the jury should have been allowed to hear it. If the allegations prove true, wrote the court, that could constitute a violation of Virginia’s food safety laws.
The Fourth Circuit held that the statement was admissible under Rule 801(d)(2)(D) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The statement is not hearsay because it was offered against a party and is “a statement by the party’s agent or servant concerning a matter within the scope of the agency or employment, made during the existence of the relationship.” “It is not contributory negligence as a matter of law to merely bite into food served hot by a restaurant,” Judge Dennis Shedd wrote in his majority opinion for the Fourth Circuit. Sutton v. Roth, L.L.C.: John Doe; McDonald’s Corporation, No. 08-1914.
In another suit, this time a class action, McDonalds, Burger King and Friendlys are accused of causing harm to their customers from PhIP, which forms during the grilling process, as a known carcinogen in 1994. The complaint was filed last October by Washington-based non-profit Cancer Project on behalf of two Connecticut residents. The objective of the suit is not to have the product banned, but rather to force that a warning is given.
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