Burger King must defend its Whopper size in court. Other fast food chains may follow

As it happens6:30 amBurger King must defend its enormous size in court. Other fast food chains may follow

Anthony J. Russo says his firm’s lawsuits against four fast-food giants aren’t limited to the amount of beef in a burger.

The US attorney is working on three class action lawsuits targeting four major brands: Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Each complaint has been filed on behalf of dissatisfied customers who claim the companies make their menus look bigger and better in marketing terms than they actually are.

“Today it starts with the possibility of a fast food product that costs, you know, a few dollars. Tomorrow it will be an automobile, a vehicle or a house,” said Russo, president of the law firm. Russian. As it happens guest host Katie Simpson.

“If you don’t put stopgap measures here, there’s going to be no limit to what, you know, the truthfulness of the ad will be. And that’s really the basis of our lawsuit.”

On Friday, he scored a small victory when U.S. District Judge Roy Altman in Miami denied Burger King’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

Russo’s firm has already cited Altman’s opinion in its New York lawsuit against McDonald’s and Wendy’s, to justify pursuing this action.

“Complainants’ claims are false”: Burger King

Burger King – a unit of Restaurant Brands International – denies the lawsuit allegations.

“The plaintiffs’ claims are false,” the company said in a statement emailed to CBC. “The grilled beef patties featured in our advertising are the same ones used in the millions of Whopper sandwiches we serve to our guests nationwide.”

The burger chain tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that it was not obligated to deliver burgers that looked “exactly like the picture”.

Altman dismissed claims in the lawsuit based on TV and online ads, saying he hadn’t found any in which Burger King promised burger “size” or patty weight and failed to deliver. But he said the company had to defend itself against a claim that its depiction of Whoppers on store menus would mislead reasonable customers, amounting to a breach of contract.

In his decision, the judge said it was up to the jurors to “tell us what reasonable people think”.

Neither McDonald’s, Wendy’s nor Taco Bell responded to CBC’s requests for comment.

This image was taken from a lawsuit accusing Taco Bell of misleading customers about the amount of filling in its Crunchwraps and other menu items. (Siragusa vs. Taco Bell Corps)

Russo doesn’t necessarily disagree with Burger King’s statement.

“They may be the same patties, but… what you see isn’t what you get,” he said. “Our opinion and claims are that the differences are very, very obvious to the naked eye.”

The lawsuits include images of marketed menu items and compare them to actual products to see if they pass what Russo calls “the eyesight test.”

Images on menus and ads, he says, depict “a big, thick, juicy burger, flame-grilled, dripping with, you know, juiciness,” and topped with “bright green, fresh, crisp lettuce” and ripe tomatoes protruding from a “glittery bun.”

“Actually what you see when you unwrap it… would be a very, very thin, greyish, dried out burger with maybe a little bit of wilted lettuce, you know, sticking out on the sides,” he said.

On the left is a marketing image of a thick cheeseburger loaded with bacon and crispy breaded onions.  On the right, two fingers show a much flatter burger, with no visible bacon and only one visible onion.
A lawsuit against Wendy’s and McDonald’s accuses the fast food giants of misleading customers about the size of their burgers. These images, used in court filings, show a Wendy’s Bacon Cheeseburger as advertised compared to an actual cheeseburger from a YouTube review. (Wendys.com, Usfoods72/Chimienti versus Wendys)

The lawsuits – each of which seeks at least $5 million in damages – claim the discrepancy is due to the deceptive practices of food stylists, people who design, prepare and style food for photographs or videos.

A Wendy’s food stylist cited in that lawsuit said she would use undercooked beef in order to make the patties appear larger than they are when served.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Could pave the way for future lawsuits

New York attorney Spencer Sheehan, who is not involved in the cases, called Altman’s decision a “positive development” that could pave the way for other attorneys to file similar lawsuits.

“As long as, you know, a judge somewhere says a course of action or a theory is acceptable, basically…it’s kind of an open hunt,” he told CBC.

But he warned that there was a high bar to be upheld in this kind of litigation. And he should know that. He has filed hundreds of lawsuits against food companies over allegations of dishonest packaging and advertising. He is sometimes nicknamed “the vanilla watcher” because more than 100 of his cases involve vanilla-flavored products that he says don’t contain real vanilla.

“I support these cases and hope they will be successful,” he said. “And I will watch them very closely.”

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