Judge dismisses suit against McDonald's over slip-and-fall incident

By Jon Campisi | Mar 19, 2012

A woman from Southeastern Pennsylvania who sued McDonald's last December over injuries she sustained in a slip-and-fall incident at a Maryland McDonald’s restaurant located a mere five miles from the plaintiff’s home cannot move forward with her suit, but not because the complaint was filed in an improper venue.

Nottingham, Pa. resident Linda Temple filed her personal injury claim in early December 2011 against McDonald’s Corporation alleging she sustained serious bodily injuries after she fell on a patch of ice outside of a McDonald’s location in Rising Sun, Maryland, which is only about five-and-a-half miles from her home in southern Chester County, Pa.

Temple’s husband, Paul Temple, was a co-plaintiff in the suit, alleging loss of consortium relating to the Feb. 19, 2010 slip-and-fall incident.

In early January 2011, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit for improper venue and failure to state a claim for relief under the federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

In a March 13 ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss for improper venue, but granted the McDonald’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

In his order, Bartle wrote that McDonald’s Corporation was wrong to assert that venue was improper because, as it argued, any claim should be brought against the McDonald’s franchise in Rising Sun, Md., not the parent corporation.

On the contrary, Bartle wrote that the fact that the defendant is registered as a foreign corporation in Pennsylvania entitles it to be sued in federal court in Pennsylvania.

“Defendant’s arguments to the contrary concern McDonald’s of Maryland, an entity which is not a party to this lawsuit,” Bartle wrote. “We are not concerned with venue as to an entity that has not been sued.”

However, Bartle agreed with the defendant’s argument that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

McDonald’s Corporation argued that because it does not own, operate or maintain the McDonald’s restaurant where the incident occurred, it should not be held liable for damages.

The restaurant where the incident occurred is owned and operated by McDonald’s of Maryland, a franchisee of the defendant. McDonald’s of Maryland leases the restaurant building and surrounding land from the corporation.

In attempting to show that the corporation had control over the property, the plaintiffs asserted that a McDonald’s Corporation representative appeared at local zoning hearings regarding the Rising Sun McDonald’s property, and they also pointed to certain portions of the lease and license agreement to demonstrate the defendant’s control over the property.

The judge noted, however, that under the lease agreement, McDonald’s of Maryland was solely responsible for maintaining the restaurant building and property.

“Based on the Lease and Licensing Agreement, we find as a matter of law that defendant did not exercise control over the specific cause of the injury, that is the presence of ice or snow around the restaurant, and did not owe a duty of care to plaintiffs,” the ruling states.

Lastly, the plaintiffs argued that the corporation could be held liable for the negligent construction or design of the Maryland McDonald’s restaurant.

While they’re correct in their assertion, the judge wrote, the plaintiffs’ complaint “does not contain a single word regarding negligent design or construction.”

“It does not allege that the drain spout was incorrectly placed or set forth any other facts to support this claim,” Bartle wrote. “Thus, the complaint does not meet the pleading standards as set forth by the Supreme Court.”


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