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It's a pretty common assumption: you walk into a fast food establishment, see combo meals on the menu, and assume that the meal is less expensive than buying each of the items individually. After all, that's why they're called "value meals," right? But our parents have all told us what happens when you assume, and it's apparently common knowledge that McDonald's Extra Value Meals actually cost more than the individually priced items.
But that didn't stop one Illinois woman from suing McDonald's, claiming the chain is tricking customers into paying more for food they could have bought at a lower cost, in violation of state consumer fraud statutes. But a federal judge disagreed. Here's why:
Value Doesn't Add Up
Kelly Killeen claims she spent $5.08 on a sausage burrito breakfast after seeing it advertised as an Extra Value Meal. Had she purchased the two sausage burritos, hash browns, and medium coffee separately, she alleges, the items would have cost her just $4.97. Thus the "value" label on the meal was deceptive, and McDonald's was guilty of unlawful enrichment.
Not so, according to U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo, who ruled that McDonald's could not be guilty of deceptive pricing when the prices for their value meals and individual items are so readily available. "Illinois law is clear," Bucklo ruled, "that where other information is available to dispel that tendency, there is no possibility for deception."
Tendency to Mislead ≠ Deception
Judge Bucklo conceded Killeen's theory "has a superficial appeal," and "common experience favors her assertion that consumers expect to pay less for items bundled together and billed as a 'value' package than they would pay if they purchased the items separately." Still, any customer could do the math before the purchase, undoing the alleged deception.
"Indeed," Bucklo wrote, "anyone familiar with fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's surely knows that prices are typically displayed on menus located near the registers. Understandably, plaintiff may not have wished to take the time to compare prices, but there is no question that doing so would have dispelled the deception on which her claims are based."
So, Killeen's lawsuit is over, and McDonald's can keep gouging those of us who don't want to do math in the morning 11 cents every Extra Value Meal.
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