WEST JORDAN, Utah (KSTU) — Fast-food giant McDonald’s is asking a judge to drop it from a lawsuit over a Diet Coke tainted with a heroin-like substance.
Trevor Walker is suing McDonald’s, the local franchise restaurant and Coca Cola over the 2016 incident. Walker alleges he ordered a Diet Coke from a Riverton McDonald’s restaurant and was served a drink that had been spiked with a heroin substitute, buprenorphine or Suboxone.
On Wednesday, McDonald’s USA argued that it should be dropped from the lawsuit because it is removed from the day-to-day operations of a franchisee.
“McDonald’s USA does not sell any product whatsoever,” said the company’s attorney, Gregory Sanders. “Not any. The only thing they do is franchise restaurants.”
But Third District Court Judge James Gardner appeared a little skeptical, pointing out that franchise agreements require managers to enroll in “Hamburger University” and comply with company demands about what a restaurant can serve and how food and drinks are prepared.
“It sounds mandatory to me,” the judge said. “You have to enroll in this hamburger school, or where we tell you to do the training.”
Sanders argued that McDonald’s USA certainly sets guidelines but does not dictate the daily decisions, nor does it exercise control over the hiring and firing of employees. Walker’s attorney, Brady Brammer, accused the company of “trying to have their Big Mac and eat it, too.”
“They controlled how employees interact with customers to the point of ‘Welcome to McDonald’s,’” he told the judge.
Brammer said McDonald’s sets menus, demands certain equipment be used, food be prepared a certain way and dictates what employees wear and how a restaurant looks. That makes them liable for the incident, he argued.
“The more control McDonald’s exerts, the more liability they incur as a franchisor,” Brammer said.
Sanders said they questioned if the incident even happened as Walker claimed. Brammer countered that they did not allege it was a criminal act, but are suing alleging negligence.
“We do not think it happened,” Sanders told the judge.
Judge Gardner took the issue under advisement anticipating a ruling soon. Coca Cola has already been dismissed from parts of the lawsuit. Brammer has previously said that under Utah product liability law, they must sue everyone in the chain of distribution and dismiss them as evidence is discovered or the case moves forward.