Stella Case No. 079, Originally Published: 27 October 2004
Michael Strauss of Chicago, Ill., was tucking into a burger and onion rings from a White Castle restaurant in Bourbonnais, Ill., two years ago when, upon biting into one of the onion rings, “scalding hot grease splattered out and onto” his arm, “scalding and severely burning him.” He has sued the burger chain for the “severe and permanent injuries” he says he suffered from the “unreasonably dangerous” food.
Onion rings, of course, are cooked by submerging them into hot grease. So how does he justify that they were “unreasonably dangerous”? He says they were served in “defective condition” (which apparently means “freshly dumped from the fryer basket”), which left him in “great pain and anguish in mind and body.” The suit, filed with the help of attorney Janine Rosana, demands $50,000 in compensation.
The Chicago Sun-Times found the case reminiscent of the Stella Liebeck case against McDonald’s. She sued them after she spilled hot coffee in her lap. It did not happen to say whether Strauss’ lawyer is related to Rosanne Rosannadanna of Saturday Night Live.
- “White Castle Lawsuit Has Familiar Ring,” Chicago Sun-Times, 30 September 2004.
I searched, but only found mentions of the lawsuit filing, and nothing about it being withdrawn, settled, thrown out, or what.
My 2021 Thoughts on the Case
Fresh onion rings are supposed to be hot!
Cases involving well-known people bring large responses: I refer to #78 about football star Derrick Thomas who, while speeding in a snow storm, crashed his oversize SUV, killing his assistant. Thomas lived, but was partly paralyzed; he died suddenly two weeks later from a blood clot, and his mother sued over it. I was particularly interested in the reactions from Thomas fans.
Jeff, from Thomas’ home town: “Too many people in the Kansas City media (radio and newspaper especially) took the death of Derrick as an opportunity to make a name for themselves by attacking his reputation, a cowardly act when the man is unable to defend himself. Many of them pointed to his reckless driving as somehow showing that he deserved this accident (I’m sure none of them ever drove too fast), or his seven children from five mothers, as if that somehow made him a monster. Yes, it’s not something to be proud of, but at least he took care of those children, a fact they usually chose to ignore.
“I’d like to thank you for not dwelling on that in your story, but instead pointing out many of the good things he did for the community (he was even named as one of President Bush’s shining points of light) while still showing the fallacy of his mother’s actions. Too many people have tried to kick this man now that he’s down, and I’m sure more attacks will be coming now that the trial has ended, so it was nice to see at least one reporter take the high road. I’ve enjoyed your emails very much, and always considered you to be the TRUE definition of ‘fair and balanced’. Thanks for proving me right yet again.”
Steve in Kansas City: “It’s a shame that people don’t just learn from the passing of such a great man. They could have started a non-profit organization, traveled all over the country imploring people to wear their seatbelts, honoring the great Derek Thomas (I have a red 58 hanging from my rearview mirror to remind passengers to buckle up). Instead, they shame his name by blaming others for his mistakes. He was driving too fast on an icy highway and not was wearing his seatbelt. 35 years ago, I rolled my car. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the car, had a skull fracture and broke my neck. I was lucky. I lived. Unfortunately, my oldest brother, Tom, didn’t learn from my (or DT’s) mistake. When he rolled his truck, on January 6, 2003, he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. He was thrown from his truck, had a skull fracture and broke his neck. He died instantly. I wish the Derek Thomas family would learn two lessons: Sometimes stuff happens to you when it’s nobody else’s fault, and you just have to deal with it. Second, WEAR YOUR SEAT BELTS!!! Not to learn from such tragedy is the REAL injustice!”
And Linda: “As a Kansas Citian and a Chiefs football fan, I miss Derek and feel sorry for his family. He was a great player and very involved with the community. After his accident, a lot of locals started buckling up, including me. However, given one fact from your story (five mothers of his seven children), it’s obvious that Derek didn’t believe in protecting himself by wearing a seatbelt, or anything else. If it hadn’t been a car accident that killed him, it would have been AIDS. Then who would mommy have sued?”
Dennis in Costa Rica: “My thoughts go to the ‘blowing up’ incident where he was suspended and Derrick’s response was to hold ‘a press conference and addressed “the youth of America who look up to Derrick Thomas” and urged them not to make the same mistake he did. The kind of role model sports stars should be, but often aren’t.’
“In filing the lawsuit, Edith Morgan, Thomas’ mother did a great disservice to her son AND TO HIS FANS. What she should have done was to hold a press conference and address these youths on the importance of wearing seat belts as well as to point out that when driving in hazardous conditions, it is not 58 mph in a 70 mph zone or even 48 mph, for as long as the driver can lose control of the car at whatever speed, he/she is driving too fast, that the speed limit posted is always for ideal conditions (meaning road, weather, car and driver) and that the responsibility ALWAYS falls onto the driver including pulling off the road if necessary.”
Roy in Oregon: “I was living near Kansas City at the time that Derrick Thomas had his accident. In fact, at that very time, on that very day, I was driving north on Interstate 35, which crosses Interstate 435 twice. The conditions were horrible: the road — remember this is a major Interstate highway — was icy and snow-packed. Traffic was creeping along at 20 mph on a good stretch. It took me six hours to make the normally three hour trek to Des Moines, Iowa, where I was working at the time. It was snowing — not the soft, gentle flakes most of the nation is familiar with, but the icy, hard sleet-type Kansas City-area residents know and loath. How Mr. Thomas got his vehicle up to 70 mph (or even 58!) is amazing considering both the heavy, slow traffic and the icy conditions that resulted from this winter storm. That his vehicle rolled was no surprise — that he didn’t die instantly was a great surprise.
“I held out great hope that he would recover from his paralysis and was deeply saddened by his death. I am a big fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and a bigger fan of Derrick Thomas. But that does not cloud my opinion that he was in fact driving far in excess of a reasonable and prudent speed in view of the existing weather conditions and that he failed to wear a legally required seatbelt. Had he observed both of these things, we would still be enjoying his great personality today.”
Lisa from Ohio: “The fact that both the Chevy dealer and the ambulance company settled out of court for over $100,000 absolutely makes me sick. I don’t normally feel much sympathy for car dealers (sorry, guys!), but how could the Chevy dealer possibly be responsible for this man’s death? The guy’s mother obviously included the dealership in her lawsuit to shake them down, and she succeeded! I wish they had had the guts (and the cash) to face her down; she took their money for no reason. Now they are out, probably at least $100,000, and where do you suppose they will go to make up for their losses? Higher car prices, I would imagine. And the nonprofit ambulance company? Same situation, only what she did to them is even more deplorable, since they are nonprofit, and they saved her son’s life. Hello!!?! It looks to me as if this woman felt entitled to the money. After all, her son was making big bucks. I’m sure she got her share of it. Suddenly he’s dead, now who’s going to pay her? Well, welcome to real life, lady.”
Beverly in Canada, a Ph.D cardiovascular medical researcher: “I can’t help but wonder at the total lack of creativity of the mother. Derrick Thomas died of a blood clot after a serious injury. This suggests to me that he was inadequately anti-coagulated while in hospital as per medical treatment recommendations) and therefore, it was the hospital that was at fault for his death. Tsk, Tsk, what an un-educated lot you Americans are.”
Hm: I wonder if mom is going to next sue her lawyer for malpractice….
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