You might have seen this story when it first happened, and the man involved filed a lawsuit. He'd gotten himself locked in the bathroom of a Burger King in Oregon for an hour.

Apparently, it wasn't the most pleasant-smelling of bathrooms to begin with. And the man said he could hear the Burger King employees on the other side of the door laughing at him as he endured the stench and the locked door.

At one point they slipped a fly swatter to him under the door, and suggested he use that to pick the lock somehow. 

I have no idea how this was supposed to work, but it didn't. The man, Curtis Brooner, reportedly cut his hand trying to break out. Eventually, he escaped.

While he was sitting in the lobby of the Burger King afterward, trying to calm down, he claimed the store manager told him, "Anytime you come in here, it's free meals on us."

"I eat at Burger King almost daily, and so I was grateful for the offer," Brooner told the local Willamette Week newspaper. And so he started taking the franchise up on its free food offer. 

He never went in the bathroom again apparently, but he got lunch there every day for a week or so. At first, the employees honored the manager's offer, and didn't charge him.

But then, on the day after Christmas, "the restaurant's district office allegedly told employees to stop giving him free meals," according to the paper.

So, Brooner sued. And his lawyer, Michael Fuller, of Portland, Oregon, had a very specific and frankly not-outlandish demand: either a free sandwich every week for life, or exactly $9,026.16.

Why that number? Because as the lawsuit claimed:

"Mr. Brooner is 50 years old. "A Burger King Whopper Meal costs $7.89. Assuming Mr. Brooner lives to be 72 years old and consumes on average one Burger King Whopper Meal per week for the rest of his life, the value of Burger King's agreement to Mr. Brooner is $9,026.16."

It sounds like kind of a goofy lawsuit at first, doesn't it? 

But then, this week, Burger King capitulated. It choose not to fight, and just to pay Mr. Brooner the $9,026.16 -- without making any legal admissions, of course.

"Our long national nightmare is over," Fuller told the Week. "Today Burger King agreed to pay our client's demand in exchange for the dismissal of his lawsuit."

Why back down? I don't have direct insight into Burger King's internal decision making process, but I suspect they looked at this way.

A court could potentially view the manager's suggestion to Brooner that he get free meals for life was actually part of a "covenant not to sue." 

In other words, you could assume that that someone who gets locked in a faulty, smelly Burger King bathroom for a while is likely to sue Burger King. 

If you offer them something of value out of the blue like this, especially while they're still calming down after the incident, you could in theory be held to your promise. But, if you back out, they no longer have any requirement not to sue.

So, if I'm the Burger King lawyer, and I get a lawsuit from a customer with these facts asking for less than $10,000, I think I'd absolutely sprint to settle it.

Heck, it would cost you more than $10,000 just to have a few lawyers spend some time on it and show up in court.

The whole thing reminds me of that scene from the Austin Powers movie where Dr. Evil holds the whole world hostage, but since he's time-traveled to the future from the 1960s and doesn't have an up-to-date sense of money, asks for $1 million.

So, you can get rid of the case for the price of a Whopper meal a week? Not only that, but you get the potential brand equity and goodwill that comes out of the knowledge that a guy went through this experience, and all he wanted was more of your food? 

I'd call that not only a good deal for Burger King. I'd say it's absolutely brilliant.
 

Published on: Feb 18, 2019
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