I am sure everyone is aware of the McDonald's cheeseburger case, but let me hit the highlights. A man in West Virginia ordered a quarter pounder with no cheese. He has a severe allergy to cheese, enough to cause a potential life-threatening reaction, and told the staff 5 times to hold the cheese. Of course, they put cheese on his burger (who out there hasn't had problems with this). The man went home to watch movies with his friends (apparently in a dark room), bit into the burger, and within minutes began having a severe allergic reaction. He was rushed to the hospital and treated. Fortunately, he survived with no adverse outcomes. Now, he is suing McDonald's for $10 million. His friends have also filed suit claiming their lives were put in danger because they had to rush him to the hospital. And here we go again.
First, before we start assaulting McDonald's, let's not forget that the plaintiff still has the majority of the responsibility here. Yes, he told them 5 times no cheese, but still I wonder: Why didn't he check to make sure the order was right before taking a big bite from the burger of death? Again, we've all been victimized by incompetent fast-food workers and it seems like he put a little too much trust in them. Thankfully, I don't have any serious allergies, but if I did and there was possibly something on my burger that could kill me, I would check before I ate it. This guy shares some of the blame for his brush with death and that should not be forgotten. And his friends? Come on. If they're going to sue McDonald's then they should also sue their friend - since he is partially to blame.
As fas as the lawsuit, it sounds a bit ridiculous. $10 million? I understand the concept of punitive damages. They are meant to be just that...punitive. And you can't punish a billion dollar company with small awards, so the damages have to be hefty. That's why a woman gets $3 million for spilling coffee on herself. I don't think punitive damages are always bad. Sometimes big industry needs to be punished. However, I do believe these damages should not be given to the plaintiff or his attorney. That just encourages unnecessary litigation. Punish the offender. Give the money to charity. That will eliminate a good deal of the frivolous lawsuits that are gumming up our courts.
Finally, if I'm a juror the plaintiff would have to convince me that the McDonald's corporation was the one at fault, and not some careless burger-flipping teenager at the grill. I would like to see company policy on special orders, mechanisms for checking those orders, and disciplinary procedures for employees that don't uphold company policy. I would think that it is McDonald's policy to give the customers what they ask for. Expecting them to police every single employee is unrealistic. So, if this guy has a case, then it appears his case is with the person who made the burger more so than the company he works for. Why isn't he suing that person? We all know the answer to that.
Similar things happen in medicine. A doctor writes an order for a medication. The order is correct, the medication is appropriate, but the nurse mistakenly gives the wrong thing and it causes a harmful event. Who gets sued? That's right...the doctor. Why? Because the doctor is the one with the money. Is that fair? Of course not, and it's one of the reasons why many states are currently in medical crisis. So that's why I think my idea about awarding punitive damages is the right idea. A person shouldn't get $3 million for basically being an idiot and not realizing that coffee is hot and may burn. Cover the medical costs and damages for the plaintiff, but give the punitive award to someone who shares none of the blame. I think it would go a long way to solving some of the problems of our litigious society.