Plaintiff lawyers owe companies like Taco Bell an apology

My, how 25 years and millions of lawsuits can change the meaning of a once-popular slogan!

In the 1980s, the fast-food chain Wendy’s started a clever advertising campaign featuring an elderly woman staring at a competitor’s small hamburger and angrily asking, “Where’s the beef?” That slogan, and some pretty good food, helped Wendy’s become the third-largest fast-food chain in the world.

Fast forward to 2011. America is a much more litigious society than it was when Wendy’s made that slogan famous — these days, an average of about 15 million lawsuits are filed in the United States each year. Unfortunately, too often our judges are serving only the interests of plaintiff lawyers.

In light of America’s deteriorating legal climate, it probably surprised no one this January when an Alabama law firm specializing in product liability lawsuits decided to put its own twist on the “Where’s the beef?” question and sued another fast-food chain for allegedly lying to the public about the beef content of its food. The firm filed a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell, claiming the restaurant’s filling is 65 percent binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other agents. I could almost hear a Chihuahua whimpering in the background.

It was a typical “sue first, ask questions later” display of lawyerly bravado that’s all too common in the United States today, but this time it backfired on the greedy barristers. Taco Bell fought back and, for a large corporation, was uncharacteristically vocal in defending itself from this ridiculous lawsuit. It utilized the media to effectively point out that its beef “is 88 percent quality USDA-inspected beef.” And guess what? Taco Bell won even before the matter got to a jury.

This week, the law firm decided to withdraw its lawsuit. The lawyers at the firm have refused to comment, but it’s doubtful that they’re celebrating by having a fiesta. Taco Bell, on the other hand, took out a full-page ad in major newspapers to declare that the lawsuit was withdrawn and boldly asked the lawyers: “Would it kill you to say you’re sorry?” Good for them! They’ve set a terrific example for companies across America to stand up against frivolous lawsuits.

However, not everyone agrees with me, and now Taco Bell is being criticized by some marketing “experts” for that ad. I say to them, “What’s your beef?!” Actually, I’d like to say something much stronger, but I can’t turn that into a pun. As a person who markets ideas to millions of Americans each year, I say that the vast majority of Americans will see this stand by Taco Bell as a positive thing. I always encourage Americans to patronize businesses that fight back against predatory lawyers’ baseless claims.

Today, unfortunately, it’s common to see meritless class action lawsuits like this filed against deep-pocketed companies EXACTLY because too many of them have refused to fight back like Taco Bell did. Plaintiff lawyers know that they can abuse the “justice” system to extort millions of dollars out of a company because the company knows that the bad publicity could cost it millions more. The mantra is settle, settle, settle.

  • CrazyHungarian

    I like the system in several European countries where loser pays both sets of attorneys. We also need to get rid of the attorneys getting 30-50% of the settlement. Attorneys, like any other service, should be paid by the hour. This would get rid of ambulance chasers and most class-action lawsuits.

  • stvcar1

    To stop this kind of abuse, the loser’s-pay system needs to be adopted in the US. If a litigation firm knows ahead of time that it better have its ducks in a row when they file, they re-think filing such suits. There has been a small implementation of this standard in property cases. When one files a frivolous matter against a piece of property, like a mechanics lien or a TRO to hinder a sale for example,if it is subsequently shown that the prior filings were frivolous at best, the losing side pays, including the prevailing side’s attorneys fees.

    I wish the practicing bar or the state supreme courts did a better job of policing these practices, which only harm the profession rather than advance some right, cause or protection.

  • Tvshooter

    Scrap Iron,
    Corporate lawyers on payroll are rarely litigation attorneys. They are almost always specialists in corporate merger/acquisistion/transactional law. Litigation is a totally spereate field of law, and most corporations, while having a very small litigation group, have to retain outside counsel for several reasons.

    One is experience…a class action is very different from a car wreck case. Jurisdiction is another….the corporation lawyers may not be admitted to the bar in the state the action is filed, so they have to have a local counsel as the co-counsel in order to present/practice in that state.

  • Scrap Iron

    Wait a minute.
    What legal fees did Taco Bell have to oay? I thought thay had a bunch of lawyer already on the payroll. Don’t a company’s lawyer work and do what they have to do? Or did Taco Bell hire EXTRA lawyer to do the job of defending the company?
    This “legal fee” thing is brought up all the time. Just what in the hell do lawyers DO for their money? Especially if they are ALREADY on your payroll??

    • Tex Expatriate

      Companies such a Taco Bell employ a law firm, or several law firms, on an annual retainer. An annual retainer does not mean that the company does not have to pay other costs of defense.

  • d wayne

    It’s 6:06 in Phoenix, time for tacos.

  • NeoKong

    Mmmmm….Taco Bell.

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