P.I. Pulse: Fast Food Restaurants on the Defense
Fast food restaurants seem to have a timeless place in the chronicles and developments of personal injury law.
Fresh in the memories of all trial lawyers (in addition to those of many others) is Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, the iconic case that fundamentally altered the perception of personal injury law in the United States. Supporters of plaintiffs’ rights saw the case as an instance of a wronged customer taking on a giant corporation in the pursuit of justice; supporters of tort reform (those who support limiting plaintiffs’ abilities to recover damages from a tort case) saw it as an example of a frivolous lawsuit. The case arose after Stella Liebeck, an elderly lady, received gruesome wounds on her inner legs and midsection after scalding hot McDonald’s coffee spilled on her. Yes, coffee is supposed to be hot, but not hot enough to create the grotesque injuries Ms. Liebeck sustained (please google “Liebeck Injuries” to see her injuries). Liebeck had simply asked McDonald’s to cover her medical costs, but when the company offered her a pathetically small sum of money for her injuries, the case was taken to court and later settled.
Recently, other fast food corporations have been the recipients of lawsuits from aggrieved customers, and one of those instances is eerily similar yet strikingly different from the Liebeck case. Last year, in Philadelphia, PA, a woman filed a lawsuit against Burger King, following burns the woman sustained from the fast food restaurant’s coffee. In this instance, the claim revolved against the negligence of an employee who, before handing the coffee to the customer, failed to secure the lid atop of the cup of coffee, resulting in spillage of the hot liquid. The woman, like Stella Liebeck some years ago, did not sue for an outrageous sum of money, as tort reformers might have you believe. The woman in Philadelphia sued for compensation for her injuries, medical bills, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and embarrassment, requesting $50,000 from the defendant plus interest and attorney’s fees.
The next recent case against a fast food giant was initiated in August of this year. According to a lawsuit filed in New York by a veteran of the war in Iraq, an employee at a KFC restaurant ordered that the veteran and his service dog (who was wearing tags noting the dog’s capacity as a service dog) leave the restaurant. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows for service animals to be in public places, but despite the fact that the Iraq War vet (who also did rescue work at Ground Zero) articulated the law to the employee, the employee still refused him service. As a result, the vet says, his post-traumatic stress disorder was exacerbated and he has endured embarrassment and mental anguish; therefore, he has filed suit against Kentucky Fried Chicken. The wronged veteran argues that while other injured individuals have wounds that are visible, his are internal; his are mental. The service dog assists him with his psychological injuries in ways such as waking the troubled vet from his sleep if he is in the midst of a night terror.
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