Muscovite Olga Kuznetsova, who is suing McDonald's over a burn from a spilled cup of coffee
Photo: Ildar Azyukov
Not Fraud, Just Clumsiness
// How to got to McDonald's and make a million
The Butyrsky Court in Moscow stopped the hearing yesterday of the suit against McDonald's by Olga Kuznetsova, who poured coffee on herself. The court ordered a third expert opinion to determine whether the door of the restaurant was guilty that the coffee was not drunk, but was rather poured down Kuznetsova's stomach. Her lawyer, seeming to feel that luck, which, as they say, loves the strong, was smiling on them, raised the sum of their demand by nine times. Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov reports from the courtroom.
Almost a year ago, Olga Kuznetsova went to McDonald's, bought her sandwiches, Sprite and coffee and wanted to dine on the hellish mixture on the sidewalk patio, but the door to the restaurant stopped her. Kuznetsova has just opened it a crack when it snapped back, hitting her tray and throwing her soft drink and coffee onto her. The cup of Sprite, it should be noted, remained covered through all of this. Kuznetsova refused to be hospitalized, but decided to sue McDonald's. The suit has stretched out nine months now.
McDonald's lawyer Elena Kashirina is very pregnant. She told me in a strangely reproachful tone that she became pregnant during this trial. And she is insisting, to the horror of some, that, if the trial keeps on the way it is now, she will give birth during it too. As evidence of the likelihood of this outcome, she points to the wife of her colleague McDonald's lawyer Maxim Titorenko, whose wife also got pregnant during the trial and has already given birth. She is trying to make the point that the trial is being reasonably drawn out.
The session began without Kuznetsova.
“Here she comes. She's flying!” her lawyer Sergey Gorbachev announced and, before she had landed, announced that they had decided to change the object of their suit. The compensation demanded of McDonald's for moral damages brought to the claimant would be raised by nine times to 900,000 rubles.
“So how did the object of the suit change?” Judge Valentina Shatilova asked in perplexity. “The sum is being raised. But how did the object change?”
“Through the raising of the demand,” Gorbachev answered and asked to introduce into the case a segment from the Vesti news program that showed how the mechanism on the door at McDonald's does not ensure unimpeded access to the patio, which the claimant was trying to get to.
“A recording of that type has no bearing on the case, since the claimant is not depicted in it,” Titorenko objected emphatically. “It does not follow in general from the fact that something happened to someone in the world that the buildings where it happens are dangerous to all people. It could be caused by personal carelessness.”
“If people cannot get out a closed door, whose carelessness is that?” Gorbachev asked huffily.
“The service of public dining does not assume that the guest should go out the door,” Titorenko explained, “since it is written in the instructions for all McDonald's employees, and they do this, they have to ask the client To go or will you eat it here?' If you have trouble going out the door with a tray, you can have it in a sack. We are talking now about the safety of the provision of the food, and only that. Someone can drop something anywhere.”
“In the television segment, does the guest go through the same door?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes!” Kuznetsova's lawyer answered gleefully.
The judge ordered the subject introduced into the case. Then the claimant's lawyer asked that an expert be called for questioning. One expert opinion had already been given in favor of McDonald's. The new expert was unambiguously on the side of the claimant.
“Where did this expert come from?” the judge asked.
“He came on his own,” answered the claimant's lawyer.
By this time, Kuznetsova, a bookkeeper by training and appearance, was already seated in the courtroom.
“Why did you decide to come here to us?” the judge asked the expert.
“I'm the one who asked him to,” Kuznestova broke in.
“Expert, what are your relations to the claimant?” the judge asked.
“None,” the expert, Sergey Stolnikov, a man of about 55, answered. “She asked me.”
“Why are you fulfilling the request of one party? Expert witnesses are supposed to be appointed by the court.”
The expert witness was unable to give a satisfactory answer to this question, thus increasing the suspicion of him.
McDonald's lawyer Titorenko expert Stolnikov had made a conclusion on the specific features of the opening of the door based on the construction norms and rules (called “snips” from their Russian abbreviation) that were in force after the building was erected. Moreover, he claimed, the expert makes a conclusion on the tipping of the tray when the bearer's body is leaning at various angles, which is far from the field of competence of an expert on construction. The McDonald's lawyer petitioned to have a new expert appointed. He also emphasized that the law prohibits contact between expert witnesses and other participants in a trial.
“And this expert witness was in the claimant's car when he made his conclusions!” he stated.
The judge, finally taking an interest, decided to question the expert. She asked if he had a higher education and what his profession was at present.
“I'm 50-something now,” he mumbled. “Let's count, then, that means, plus… I have been working in my specialty since I was 19.”
Then the lawyers spent an hour arguing about whether snips could be used if they were changed after the building was built.
“The Pashkov House and the Kremlin do not conform to current snips,” the judge noted. “So should they be redone to conform to them?”
“If we are talking about the dining point, as I call it,” the expert said, “and not the Kremlin, they just have to put a person there to open the door.”
“That has no bearing on the case,” the judge cut him off.
“The doors abroad open completely automatically,” the expert added. “Some people can't open them at all. If it's not written in your restaurant For whites only,' I conclude that anybody can dine there.”
The expert used the windows that Rostix chicken restaurants were installing for ordering from the street as an example of a humane attitude toward people. Nothing could have gotten on the nerves of the McDonald's lawyers more. Then Titorenko tried to strike back by pointing out to the expert that, as a builder, he should know that evacuation doors cannot be automatic (and that's what the door in question was) because it is prohibited. It might short-circuit.
“Your honor!” the expert objected. “When you go to the airport with bags, the doors open automatically, don't they? I already gave the court instructions…”
“You gave the court instructions? So…” the judge looked terribly happy at this. “Well…”
Judge Shatilova listened to Titorenko appeal to common sense (“If a person goes not onto the patio but into the bathroom with a tray to wash their hands, would it still be our fault?”) and firmly handwashing was not the topic of the trial, then retired to prepare a decision.
It would have been better if you had installed mandrels in the door. There would be no question now,” Stolnikov told Titorenko.
“I'm a lawyer,” Titorenko replied haughtily. “I don't even know what a mandrel is.”
The expert threw up his arms.
“Why did you raise the material demands so much?” I asked Kuznetsova as she stood by herself at a window.
“By nine times,” I reminded her.
“I told them they didn't have to!” she whispered. “And they… Nine times?... I didn't hear it, I wasn't here for the beginning. They didn't have to… Nine times…”
I didn't ask how many times they had to. She took everything to heart.
“I don't understand why the Sprite didn't spill on me and the coffee did,” she sighed. “Why did everything turn out so unjustly?”
That seems to be the question that has been torturing her for the last nine months. The judge came out and ruled that the case would be delayed pending the appointment of a new expert witness. I hope by then that lawyer Kashirina will be doing something really useful for society: raising her child.
All the Article in Russian as of July 28, 2005