A Case of Inflation

by Shelby Yastrow


Having been the Chief Legal Officer at McDonald’s for about twenty years, I’ve been asked countless times, “What kind of lawsuits did you have at McDonald’s?”


Consider this: We had about 30 million customers a day just in our U.S. restaurants, so an incident with only a one-in-a-million chance of happening could be expected to happen thirty times each day at our company.


Fortunately, and owing to the strict quality control at our restaurants and our suppliers, cases involving the food were virtually unheard of. But we did have a myriad of cases in areas ranging from real estate to taxes, securities to trademarks, contracts to employment law, and so on. The job was never boring.


However, one of the very few cases we had involving our food will stay in my memory until my dying day. A twenty-something gentleman had the novel idea of suing us on the ill-conceived theory that the tartar sauce on our fish sandwiches caused him to be flatulent. According to him, his alleged flatulence went far beyond a routine case of gas. Indeed, he claimed that his condition was so serious that his co-workers refused to sit near him, his mother made him move to a bedroom in the rear of their home, and his lady friend broke off their engagement.


The trial turned out to be a cross between Saturday Night Live and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. While on the witness stand, the hapless plaintiff did his best to explain to the jury, as vividly as possible, the precise effects of his condition.  He even did his best to describe, by voice and amazingly-creative sound effects, the various toots, whizzes, whistles, and thunderous claps supposedly produced by our sauce.  This went on for many minutes and was then repeated on cross-examination.


Not surprisingly, those in attendance could not hold back their laughter.  The court reporter was having trouble taking notes, the bailiff had his head buried in his hands, and the jurors were biting their lips to the point of bleeding.  After a time, even the judge was having trouble keeping his composure.


When asked on the stand why he continued to eat our fish sandwiches after seeing their alleged effect on him, he answered:  “I love them.”


The plaintiff’s lawyers asked the jury for an award of $250,000. As further evidence that our jury system is broken, the jury actually returned a verdict against McDonald’s and in favor of the flatulent plaintiff!  However, their verdict was for only $40,000.


The case drew so much local attention that a reporter in that city called to ask me the obvious question: “If the jury believed that he was wronged, why did they give him only $40,000 when his claim was for $250,000?”


My reply? “Clearly, the jury believed that his claim was inflated.”

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