030: A Lawsuit That’s Nothing to Sneeze At

Stella Case No. 030, Originally Published: 15 January 2003

Marcus Long, 61, has cancer in his brain, colon, lung and spine. He’s a very sick man. He and his wife Elaine moved to a new house in Clear Lake, Texas, to be close to medical care. “I was too scared to be more than 20 minutes from his doctors,” Elaine says. They say he “nearly died” three times during 2002.

McDonalds sign
Not the first time McD’s and Stella mixed, and definitely not the last….

Marcus may be deathly ill, but like most people he likes to eat out once in a while, even though he obviously needs to be careful. He favors McDonald’s, where nearly every morning Elaine got him three sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast burritos, plus two pints of milk to wash them down.

But one day, the burritos she brought home were “filled” with black pepper, and when Marcus bit into one he choked and got a nosebleed. She took the burritos back to McDonald’s, but found the manager “wasn’t apologetic or anything.” Worse, the manager didn’t offer a refund or a free Happy Meal.

Elaine says Marcus has gone “downhill” since the event, and has nosebleeds regularly. The Longs are thus suing McDonald’s in Galveston County Court, alleging breach of implied warranty for offering food that’s “unfit for human consumption” as “wholesome.”

Dr. Leslie Botnick, a Los Angeles radiation oncologist, was asked to comment about the case. He has not examined Mr. Long, but he’s quite familiar with how pepper consumption irritates cancer patients’ systems.

“Black pepper is a onetime event,” Botnick says. Clearly it can be irritating, but Marcus “spit it out. It’s not gonna be there on a daily basis. If you buy a burrito, it’s sometimes gonna be hot. That’s what burritos do.”

Botnick adds that cancer patients often bleed — it’s usually due to their cancers, not pepper, Dr. Botnick says, adding “Pepper does not promote cancer.”

If McDonald’s put a lot of pepper into food items that normally doesn’t have added pepper, shame on them. The manager was out of line if she didn’t apologize or refund the Long’s money. It’s sad Mr. Long is suffering an early and painful death, but should it be McDonald’s responsibility to ensure their food is acceptable for every possible condition, even a man on his deathbed?

The Longs may be angry to be “victims,” but they’re victims of life, not McDonald’s. Still, corporations need to learn how to say “sorry,” as long as lawyers and courts don’t pounce on a decent human apology as evidence of liability.


  • “Mac Attack — a Cancer Patient Sues McDonald’s, Contending a Peppered Burrito Caused His Nosebleed”, Houston Press, 16 January 2003

Case Status

Before we move on, a pre-answer to the especially sharp readers out there: yes, the date on the source article for the case is one day after the TSA issue date! Many weekly publications put a “future” date on their covers, but TSA issues are dated the day they are released.

I searched but did not find anything about what happened — not even an obituary for Mr. Long.

My 2020 Thoughts on the Case

Pretty much I said it all in the conclusion this time: people in fragile health do need to be careful in what they eat. (In reality, we all do!) Hell, McD’s three sausage, egg, and cheese burritos and a quart of milk nearly every day could bring a healthy man to his knees after awhile!


With the TSA getting lots of play in the media, what with the first annual Awards being issued, there was an increase in letters from readers and site visitors asking about “The Winnebago Case” — and being confused over whether the email they got from a friend of a friend is “really” from a True Stella Awards mailing or not.

And radio stations and magazines really started picking up that dumb urban legend email filled with fake cases! You know: the same old one that’s on my bogus page that culminates in The Winnebago Case, the fake email that sparked this site to begin with!

Unfortunately, some of these publications only did a partial “fact checking” by going to this site and seeing it’s real, and run by a real journalist — and then assuming that the anonymous email they got is a product of my work. Wrong! Worst of all, some of them are then attributing the years-old fake email to me to give it credibility! A lot of embarrassed editors are thus having to run corrections/retractions, as well they should. Is it really so difficult for them to click on the “Contact Us” link and make a phone call or drop me an email before attributing stuff to me?

The “bogus page” was up on this site before the first case was issued. The whole idea behind the True Stella Awards is to talk about real cases, not silly urban legends.

And the erroneous attribution of the same old fake cases continued to be published and talked about on radio shows for the rest of the publication’s life …and beyond. The story of one such radio show that I got roped into is published in my blog: G. Gordon Stella.

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5 Comments on “030: A Lawsuit That’s Nothing to Sneeze At

  1. I have often said (as have many other people) that common sense isn’t common. That’s clearly in evidence here. As you said, the manager should have apologized (but then again, maybe he did, we only have one side of the story here) and that might have solved the problem of hurt feelings, then again, might not have. Some people just aren’t happy.

  2. Many years ago I was eating in a Red Lobster and found a piece of plastic in my meal. I pushed it aside, checked the rest of the meal and didn’t find any more pieces, then enjoyed my meal. On the way out I looked for the manager, gave him the plastic and told him he might want to inspect the kitchen and warn the workers. He was very apologetic, wanted to comp me the meal (I refused), and that was the end of it. Nobody was hurt, no lawyers involved.

    Seems to me to be the difference between feeling entitled to riches (at someone else’s expense) and being fairly normal! I had a similar instance, but the chunk I found in my meal wasn’t plastic, it was a piece of METAL with a sharp spike sticking out. Luckily I found it before it went in my mouth, but I gave it to the manager as I was leaving, and they were quite shocked — and identified it as a piece from a grinder. The story ended there (at least my part!) -rc

    • My dad had a similar one a number of years back, but with it being a piece of glass in a milk shake. Luckily, the piece was too large to go up the straw.

      In that case, my dad refused the comp but the manager still comped his meal on the bill: being a milk shake, it was noticed early in the meal and brought up to the waiter quickly.

    • My wife and I went to a Mongolian all you can eat restaurant some time ago. My wife noticed a piece of metal in the food. It was curly and wouldn’t have done much damage had I ingested it. My wife pointed it out, they comped my meal, and we went on.

  3. Jeremy, The spring was probably part of a thermometer. That is what my daughter found in her French Onion soup years ago at a local steak house. Luckily she found it in the first couple of bites. Don’t know if there was glass in it or not.

    They comped her whole meal without asking.


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