Have you ever ordered food from a restaurant that arrived looking differently than it did on the menu or in an advertisement? If so, you are in good company. But does that mean you have been the victim of consumer fraud? A New York woman who has filed a $20 million lawsuit against KFC thinks so.
According to various reports, Anna Wurtzburger is seeking $20 million from Kentucky Fried Chicken because her $20 “Fill-Up” bucket contained only 8 pieces of chicken, just like the description of the menu item said it would. Wurtzburger says that based on the advertisements she saw, she was anticipating receiving a bucket overflowing with chicken instead of one that was only half full.
Wutzburger complained to KFC, and they offered her an apology and $70 in coupons, but explained that she had gotten exactly what she ordered, an 8 piece bucket of chicken. Wutzburger lawyered up and filed a lawsuit against KFC seeking $20 million.
It is not clear where the $20 million figure comes from, but in an interview with TMZ, she said, “I’ll be honest with you, I could use the money… I guess [my attorney] figured you go high because when you go to court if you win you never get what you’re looking for. So I guess maybe that’s why [my attorney] went for a higher number.”
Then in a separate interview with the local TV station she said, “It’s the principle of the matter. Sometimes you gotta hit people where they feel the hurt. For me, a corporation like that — would be in the pocketbook.”
Although it should be a no-brainer for the judge to toss this suit out of court, what will actually happen is unpredictable.
Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge in California quickly disposed of a headline-generating case over the amount of ice Starbucks puts in its iced coffees, showing that courts can make quick work of nonsense suits. On the other hand, we have yet to see the end of the Subway “Footlong” lawsuit, which was first filed in New Jersey under our state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) clear back in 2013.
Unfortunately, it seems like the Subway case is more representative of the treatment that lawsuits that can’t even pass the “laugh test” receive. Rather than being dismissed, the Subway suit was allowed to proceed. So, Subway settled the claims against it, agreeing to pay the named plaintiffs $500 apiece and the attorneys $525,000. All the rest of us got were assurances that Subway will improve its quality control program. What a joke! They already apportion the dough by weight, and the standardization of toppings ensures all customers get the same amount of food, so basically we all get to pay more to ensure Subway keeps doing what it already does.
Does the KFC case await a similar fate? Or will the judge see this case for what it really is, an attempt to make a quick buck.
Wouldn’t it be great if instead of forcing our courts to waste time dealing with cases like the KFC suit, the Starbucks iced coffee suit, and the Subway sandwich suit, such lawsuits weren’t brought in the first place? Suits like these are filed because our consumer protection laws incentivize them, and because courts so infrequently impose sanctions in ridiculous cases, that there is little downside for the attorneys who get a bunch of free publicity for bringing them.
Removing the statutory incentives to sue when no one has been harmed, and only the attorney bringing the case stands to gain, is the type of legal reform we desperately need.
It is time to have a serious discussion about our legal system. Like any complex system it is not perfect and everyone, no matter what their current viewpoint, should be open to talking about ideas for improving it.