Business Ethos Blog

McDonald’s Unhappy Meal – Dr. David Mielke, Dean of EMU’s College of Business

As we know, California is suffering from a 12.4% rate of unemployment, a projected state budget deficit of $28 billion and rains that have been wreaking havoc.  To possibly add to the misery, the Center for Science in the public interest has sued McDonalds in hopes of obtaining a court injunction banning “Happy Meals”.  The Center is representing a mother of a 6 year old girl in a class action suit on behalf of all California children under the age of 8. 

The Center alleges that children under 8 have been exposed to McDonald’s inherently deceptive and unfair marketing in the past 3 years.  The suit claims that McDonald’s has engaged in a highly sophisticated scheme to use toys as the bait to exploit children’s developmental immaturity and subvert parental authority and that arguments over Happy Meals have caused “needless and unwarranted dissension in their child-parent relationship.”  Looking at this suit in isolation we can ask “Is this the Right Thing to do?” but we can go a few steps further to examine other suits filed in 2010 and consider the bigger issue of tort reform.  In the case of McDonalds, I think there is a quick answer that this is not the right thing to do.  At what point are parents going to take the responsibility of parenting?  If parents cannot deal with setting the rules and teaching their children that they cannot have everything they want—like a Happy Meal, when will those children learn these important lessons.

As ridiculous as this suit seems there were others filed in 2010 that were included in the report by the American Tort Reform Association of the nation’s top “Judicial Hellholes”.  California placed second, even though this McDonalds suit was not included in the survey.  Philadelphia topped the list.  One example of what we might consider frivilous lawsuits is the case in NY when one doctor sued his doctor partner for not yelling “fore” before an errant ball hit him in the eye.  The state court of appeals ruled that not yelling fore isn’t reckless conduct.

Other examples of class action suits filed in California include one against more than a dozen olive oil companies for fraud and deception—the suit alleges that the extra virgin olive oil wasn’t extra virgin enough to meet USDA standards.  Another alleges that Apple misled customers with the claim that reading on the iPad is just like reading a book.  The suit claims that unlike a book which can be left in the sun on a hot day, the iPad automatically shuts down after reaching a critical temperature.  Another class action suit against nursing care providers Skilled Healthcare Group alleges that SOME of the companies facilities SOMETIMES didn’t provide 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day as required by California’s health code.  The company settled by paying $62.8 million of which the lawyers pocketed $20 million.

What is the “Right Thing to do?”  We seriously have to look at tort reform that eliminates these frivilous suits and have the costs incurred by the companies or people sued to be recovered from the plaintiffs.  There are no consequences for filing frivilous suits.  Class action suits should be restricted—on what basis is one mother suing on behalf of all children under the age of 8?  California should lead the way for tort reform or continue on the path of their own self-destruction.  And let’s not forget the attorneys who pocket massive fees—far in excess of any plaintiffs in a class action suit.