A Florida attorney is offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who can confirm his suspicion that a lawsuit against fast food giant McDonalds over cheese on its burgers is frivolous.
The federal lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Florida, accuses the company, and its franchisees, of over charging for its quarter pounders served without cheese.
And one of the attorneys, who filed on behalf of two south Florida residents, claimed the overcharging may have impacted approximately 25 million people.
South Florida-based trial lawyer John Uustal, who has won verdicts against auto manufacturers and cigarette companies, is offering a reward of $100,000 because he suspects this may be a lawsuit engineered by pro-corporate interests to provide reasons for more tort reform.
The attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cynthia Kissner of Broward County and Leonard Werner of Miami-Dade County, Andrew Lavin of Lavin Law Group, Fort Lauderdale, did not respond to a request for comment.
But Russell B. Adler, of the Adler Law Center in Fort Lauderdale and also part of the legal team, told the Sun Sentinel newspaper that as many as 25 million consumers might have been overcharged.
Adler also told the newspaper that, if the suit is successful, those customers who were overcharged and have proof of purchase might receive $25 and two free quarter pounders. Those without proof of purchase would get $10 and one free quarter pounder, he said.
The lawsuit accuses McDonalds of unfair, misleading, and deceptive practices, unjust enrichment, and of violating anti-trust laws.
In essence, the claim is that the company, mainly through franchisees, sell quarter pounder and double quarter pounders without cheese, but charge the same amount for those with two slices of the dairy product.
This is despite the fact that on its mobile app quarter pounder with cheese costs between 30 cents and 90 cents more than one without, and a double quarter pounder with cheese is 80 cents more.
Uustal, the attorney offering the reward, said he has seen many changes over two decades practicing law, and much of the tort reform has been driven by publicity over what appears on the face to be frivolous lawsuits.
"Most (of the changes) have to do as introduced with limitations on law suits, and they began with complaints about frivolous suits," Uustal told the Florida Record.
"Real people can get really hurt, but I am seeing people every day and cannot help them because of restrictions," Uustal said. "That is even if they are hurt."
Uustal characterized the campaign against using the civil justice system as "propaganda," often fueled, he said, by "some crazy case."
"There has been a well funded campaign by corporate interests, and it is spread through the media," Uustal added. "When we heard about this new case on the news, people were saying it is the most ridiculous they ever saw."
But the attorney admitted he has no evidence of any cases where it was found that pro-corporate interests had manufactured a lawsuit to further tort reform.
Sometimes in a class action, Uustal explained, corporations do insert themselves into an action as defendants "because judgment provides release from all misconduct for a limited amount of money."
In the McDonalds case filed recently, if the company is found to be making money in a deceptive manner, and there is a legitimate argument, then it should go forward.
"Although the focus is on this particular law suit, I do not have any evidence and do not want to suggest anything based on speculation, but if this is happening in some other case it should be public knowledge," Uustal said.
"I prefer to focus on the general, and do not have any suspicion about this law suit but heard people talking about it and saying how ridiculous it was," Uustal said.
But, he added, it reminded him of what he believes is a campaign against individuals achieving a measure of justice in the courts when they have been wronged.
"Generally, something bad is happening with the propaganda campaign," the attorney, who has offices at four locations in south Florida, said.
He cited one other famous case involving McDonalds, when an elderly woman was badly burned after spilling hot coffee as an example where those advocating tort reform spring into action to try and change the law.
Yet, in that case, which began in 1994, the company changed its policy on the coffee, ordering store owners to serve the beverage at 10 degrees below the previous temperature.
Werner, one of the lead plaintiffs in the McDonalds case, told the Sun Sentinel that he decided to cut down on the amount of dairy in his diet, and started ordering quarter pounders without cheese.
He noticed that he was still charged the same as if he ordered with cheese. “I started talking with some lawyer friends, saying, ‘What’s the deal? They can charge for something I didn’t get?’ It’s not right," Werner told the newspaper.
In a statement issued following the filing of the lawsuit, McDonalds stated, "We do not believe the claims in this lawsuit have legal merit. The advertised Quarter Pounder Burger comes with cheese. We try to accommodate our customers’ requests by allowing them to customize their orders such as a Quarter Pounder with no cheese. Additionally, McDonald’s owners and operators determine menu pricing to be competitive in their market."