7 Bizarre Lawsuits Involving McDonald's

McDonald's can sometimes offer up a side of litigation.
McDonald's can sometimes offer up a side of litigation.
Yu Chun Christopher Wong, S3studio/Getty Images

Since the 1950s, McDonald’s has been serving up a menu full of convenient, fast-service food, from their signature Big Mac to the portable Chicken McNugget. Unfortunately, not everyone has been happy with their Happy Meals. The company has occasionally found itself embroiled in complaints from customers who have been dissatisfied and requested a side order of litigation. Take a look at some of the legal cases tossed around the Golden Arches over the years.

1. McDonald’s v. Ronald McDonald

McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald.PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

The ability for McDonald’s to find itself in the middle of legal quandaries was demonstrated early on. After being in business for 14 years, the independently-owned McDonald’s Family Restaurant in Fairbury, Illinois, was issued a legal notice from the McDonald’s corporation in 1970 warning them to avoid using any arches or offering drive-in service. The letters continued for decades, with owner Ronald McDonald (yes, that is his real name) paying little attention. It was, after all, his family’s name and restaurant. But McDonald’s upped the ante in 1992, when a local franchisee finally opened a mile down the road, and a flurry of activity commenced. McDonald (the person) eventually settled, and the two locations became known to locals as McDonald’s East and McDonald’s West. The agreement also required Ron to take the possessive “S” off the family restaurant name, but it went back up in 1996, when the franchise location closed.

2. The Quarter Pounder Controversy

The McDonald’s Quarter Pounder seemingly leaves little to the imagination. It promises one quarter-pound of meat, which it delivers. (You can also opt for the Double Quarter Pounder, which gets you closer to an entire cow.) It also comes with cheese, which caused some strife at a South Florida location in 2018. Two customers, Cynthia Kissner and Leonard Werner, filed a $5 million class action lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale because the restaurant charged them the full price of a Quarter Pounder despite their request for employees to hold the cheese. The plaintiffs argued that the McDonald’s app offered a Quarter Pounder without cheese for roughly 30 cents less and that they should not have been charged more when they asked to hold the cheese. Not all locations, however, offer that option, and the argument that the cheese and no-cheese burgers are somehow one product was not convincing to the judge. As the customers were unable to prove damages, the case was thrown out of court.

3. H.R. Pufnstuf Invades McDonaldland

H.R. Pufnstuf attends "Sid & Marty Kroft's Saturday Morning Hits" DVD release party.John M. Heller/Getty Images

McDonaldland, that child oasis found in many McDonald’s commercials of the 1970s and featuring a variety of characters from the Hamburglar to Grimace, was once the subject of a legal struggle. Sid and Marty Krofft, producers of the psychedelic kid’s series H.R. Pufnstuf, sued McDonald’s alleging that Mayor McCheese was copied from its own political abomination, Pufnstuf. (Both have enormous heads, and Pufnstuf was mayor of Living Island.) The Kroffts claimed that Needham, Harper & Steers, the ad agency responsible for McDonaldland, consulted with them before breaking ties and producing the commercials on their own. The courts ruled in favor of the Kroffts in 1977, declaring the ads took the “total concept and feel” of the Kroffts’ show. McDonald’s was ordered to pay $1 million and had to stop airing the ads.

4. The contaminated Coca-Cola

In 2016, Trevor Walker ordered a Diet Coke from a Mickey D's in Riverton, Utah. While lower in calories, it was apparently higher in illegal substances. The drink was somehow contaminated with Suboxone, a heroin substitute. Walker temporarily lost feeling in his arms and legs and had to be taken to the emergency room of a local hospital. Walker sued, but McDonald’s argued they should be dropped from the lawsuit owing to the fact that they are removed from the day-to-day operations of franchised locations. (A manager and employee were suspected of spiking the drink, but security footage was unavailable to confirm the theory.) Third District Court Judge James Gardner was unmoved, saying McDonald’s couldn’t be that separated if they also mandated franchise managers attend Hamburger University for training—or “this hamburger school,” as Gardner put it. The case is ongoing.

5. Big Macs and brothels

In 2012, former McDonald’s employee Shelley Lynn sued McDonald’s and made the audacious claim that the company’s low wages had forced her into a side job as a prostitute for a Nevada brothel. Lynn was hired for a position at an Arroyo Grande, California, McDonald's location, where she alleged manager Keith Handley pushed her into a life of sex work. Lynn complained there was no practical grievance system in place and that Handley should not have been sold a franchise. A United States District Court judge in California found in favor of McDonald’s and Handley that same year.

6. McDonald's In a Pickle

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 1999, Veronica Martin and her husband ordered hamburgers from a McDonald’s in Knoxville, Tennessee. What should have been a delicious treat turned ugly as—according to Martin—a very hot pickle shot out from between the bun, landed on her chin, and scalded her, leaving her with second-degree burns. A lawsuit followed, with Martin arguing the pickle was “defective.” She sought $110,000 while her husband asked for $15,000 for losing the “service and consortium” of his wife. The two parties settled in 2001, though McDonald’s maintained no monetary payment was offered.

7. a Weighty Problem

It can be assured that excess consumption of calories, whether they come from McDonald’s or other sources, will result in an accumulation of fatty tissue. This did not prevent several overweight teenagers in New York from taking McDonald’s to court in 2002 in an attempt to place responsibility for their habit of eating at McDonald’s several times a week at the feet of the corporation. The plaintiffs, Ashley Pelman, 14, and Jazlyn Bradley, 19, among others, said they did not know how fattening the food was and complained of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, among other ailments. One plaintiff, a 600-pound 15-year-old, said he ate there every day. Lawyers argued advertising to children helped foster a trust of the food’s nutritional value.

The case was rejected by a judge in 2003. Now at least 26 states have “common sense consumption” laws, which prevent lawsuits from being filed against food manufacturers for adverse health effects as a result of gorging on a decadent diet. It's also known as the "cheeseburger law."

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7 Formidable Facts About the Tower of London

The Tower of London looms large within the city’s history.
The Tower of London looms large within the city’s history.
Vladislav Zolotov/Getty Images

The nearly 1000-year-old Tower of London inspires many reactions, among them awe, horror, and intrigue. William the Conqueror built the White Tower in 1066 on the River Thames as a symbol of Norman power and dominance. Over the centuries, the structure expanded into 21 towers. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a landmark in London that millions come to see every year.

The impenetrable fortress has played many roles over the years, serving as a royal palace, a menagerie, a prison, the Royal Mint, and a repository for royal documents and jewels (the royal jewels, including the Imperial Crown, housed here cost $32 billion). Here are seven facts you may not know about the Tower of London.

1. The Tower of London has held notable prisoners.

From royals accused of treason and religious conspirators to common thieves and even sorcerers, many people have been incarcerated in the Tower of London, but the experiences differed—some were tortured and starved, while others were waited on by servants. And, of course, there were executions. Three queens were beheaded at the tower in the 16th century. Elizabeth I was just 2 when her mother Anne Boleyn was condemned to death by her husband, King Henry VIII. The king later also beheaded his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. The third rolling regal head was of proclaimed queen Lady Jane Grey, also known as the “Nine Days’ Queen,” who was 17 when she was charged with high treason by Queen Mary I.

Queen Mary also imprisoned her half-sister Elizabeth I in in the tower in 1554, but she escaped her mother’s violent end due to lack of evidence. In 1559, when Queen Mary passed away, Elizabeth came back to the Tower, this time for preparations for her coronation.

The last execution took place more recently than you might think: It occurred in 1941, when German spy Josef Jakobs faced a firing squad. In 1952, gangster brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray were among the last prisoners to be detained in the tower.

2. A Catholic priest escaped the Tower of London in 1557 using invisible ink.

During the reign of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, the persecution of Catholics led to the incarceration and torture of Jesuit priest John Gerard. His escape is still a wonder—he sent notes to his fellow prisoner John Arden and outside supporters with an invisible ink made of orange juice, which revealed his secret messages when held to a heat source. He later used a rope to get to the boat waiting across the moat. HBO’s series Gunpowder depicts this prison break in the second episode.

3. The Tower of London once had a zoo that was home to a now-extinct subspecies of Barbary lion.

You won't find any live lions at the Tower of London today.petekarici/Getty Images

In the 1200s, King John started the royal menagerie in the Tower of London to hold the exotic animals gifted by other monarchs. It became an attraction for Londoners who came to see captive lions and the white bear, who was regularly taken to the Thames to hunt. The menagerie closed in the 1830s and the royal gifts were re-homed in the London Zoo. As a nod to this legacy, the Tower exhibits animal sculptures by artist Kendra Haste.

In 1936, excavations around the moat led to a fascinating discovery: two lion skulls dating to the medieval times. Genetic evidence suggests they belong to a subspecies of Barbary lion that once lived in Africa but disappeared a century ago.

4. In 2014, the Tower of London organized the Centenary Commemoration of World War I with 888,246 poppies.

Five million people came to see the art display of ceramic poppies in the moat, all created by artist Paul Cummins. Each poppy denoted a British military fatality in the war. They were sold for £23 million (each individual poppy was £25) to raise money for armed forces charities. However, a controversy arose when it was revealed that a whooping £15 million was spent on costs (Cummins made £7.2 million) and the charities only received £9 million.

5. In 2019, 500-year-old skeletons were unearthed under the Tower of London’s chapel.

Archeologists found two skeletons, an adult woman and a child, near the same spot where the headless body of Queen Anne was also laid to rest. The bones were thought to be buried somewhere between 1450 and 1550 and give an insight into the lives of the common folk who lived at the tower in the medieval times.

6. Beefeaters live in the Tower of London with their families.

A 19th-century illustration of the vibrantly clad Yeomen Warders at the Tower of London.duncan1890/Getty Images

The Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters) have been guarding the Tower since the Tudor era. Clad in a sharp red dress, these 37 men and women give tours of the fortress. Every night at 9:53 p.m., they lock the tower, a 700-year-old tradition called the Ceremony of Keys. Beefeaters and their families, around 150 people in total, live in the supposedly haunted Tower of London, and also frequent a secret pub in the fortress.

7. There’s a superstition that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, the kingdom will fall.

According to legend, in the mid-17th century, King Charles II was warned that the Crown would fall if the ravens ever left the Tower of London—so he ordered that six of the birds be kept captive there at all times, as he believed they were a symbol of good fortune. (However, some sources claim this tale is Victorian folklore, while others maintain the legend was created even later, during World War II.) Today, there are seven ravens (one spare) living in an aviary on the grounds. The ravens’ primary and secondary wings are trimmed carefully, so they can fly but stay close to home, where they feast on blood-soaked biscuits and meat.

In the past, ravens have gotten away—one took flight to Greenwich but was returned after seven days, and one was last seen outside an East End pub. Now with fewer visitors after the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, ravens are getting bored and two adventurous birds have been straying from the Tower, much to the distress of the ravenmaster.