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The Five Pettiest Lawsuits Against Fast-Food Chains

The most frivolous complaints against Starbucks, Subway, and more

A Starbucks iced coffee
Getty Images / Zhang Peng

Lawsuits against fast-food restaurants have become relatively common since an infamous 1993 case where a woman sued McDonald’s and won $2.86 million after spilling nearly-boiling hot coffee on herself. (Given her fairly major injuries, the case actually had a lot more merit than that description would suggest.)

Since then, Starbucks has been on the receiving end of similar hot coffee lawsuits — in the last two years alone, two separate plaintiffs have blamed injuries on faulty lids on Starbucks coffee. Although one was successful, the damages have never come close to the millions awarded in the older McDonald’s case.

Below the well-publicized hot coffee lawsuits there’s a whole sub-strain of even more ridiculous claims against fast-food restaurants, from dubious claims of chains misleading customers, to arguments that a restaurant allowed someone to eat something they really shouldn’t. Here are five of the most notable from recent years.

Starbucks Gets Sued for Putting Ice in Iced Drinks

Following a case complaining that Starbucks did not fill its hot drinks all the way to the top, the coffee chain received two more cases against its iced drinks. Both cases argued that because Starbucks put ice in its iced tea and coffee beverages, customers weren’t receiving the full volume of coffee they had paid for (example: a 24-ounce Venti iced coffee might have only 14 ounces of coffee, not counting the ice).

One case is still pending, while the other received a smackdown from a California judge who clearly brushed up on the mechanics of cold drinks via ‘80s fast-food training videos.

If children have figured out that including ice in a cold beverage decreases the amount of liquid they will receive, the court has no difficulty concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into thinking that when they order an iced tea, that the drink they receive will include both ice and tea and that for a given size cup.

Man Sues Papa John’s for Texting Him Too Much

Beverly Hills resident Jonathan Anozie is taking pizza chain Papa John’s to court for texting him too many pizza offers via an automated marketing system. This case may be legally valid: Because Anozie texted “STOP” to the robo-text system and the messages kept coming, the practice could be a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The court filing argued the texts cause Anozie “to suffer a significant amount of anxiety, frustration, and annoyance.” The case hasn’t been resolved, and Anozie is asking for $500 per text received.

Couple Sues Burger King for $17

After being double-charged for a meal at Burger King, Pennsylvania couple Doug and Patty Wargo (rightfully) demanded a refund. While the store agreed, it didn’t come through, so they took Burger King to small claims court. They promptly received their $17.35 refund, but then demanded that Burger King cover their court fees; a judge agreed — never mind that the whole situation could probably have been resolved with some angry tweets or Facebook posts directed at Burger King.

Man Sues Popeye’s for Giving Him a Spork Instead of a Knife

In 2016, a Mississippi man claimed that he choked on a piece of Popeye’s fried chicken because his drive-thru order came with a spork, but no knife. The man had to undergo emergency surgery to get the chicken out of his throat, which is unfortunate — but it seems fair to say there were myriad solutions to the no-knife conundrum, from going back to Popeye’s to get a knife, or just taking smaller bites.

Subway Gets Sued Over 11-Inch Sandwiches

In perhaps one of the longest-running lawsuits, an Australian man posted a picture of a Subway footlong next to a ruler, showing the sandwich to be only 11 inches long. This led two New Jersey men to take America’s number one sandwich-oriented champion of the Imperial system to court, as it snowballed into a 10-person class action.

They eventually won a paltry $500 each (plus legal fees), but the legal wrangling didn’t end there. Subway took the case to an appeals court, demanding it be dismissed as a frivolous lawsuit, saying that the company had promised to fix its sandwich-length issues in 2013, when the issue first came to light.

Honorable Mentions

Fast-food chains aren’t the only target for lawsuits — here are some examples from elsewhere in the restaurant world.

All Lawsuit coverage on Eater [E]

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