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McDonald’s settles ‘hamburger disease’ suit

Nov 13,2019
McDonald’s Korea has reached an agreement with the family of a 6-year-old girl who was diagnosed with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), known as “hamburger disease,” after eating a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

The agreement ends a two-year legal battle.

The food chain announced Tuesday that the two parties had signed an agreement the previous day under court supervision. McDonald’s will cover treatment expenses for the girl, including past hospital bills. The fast food chain says the agreement was based on “humanitarian motives, regardless of the company’s legal responsibility.”

The child’s mother, who had been vocal in criticizing the fast food chain during the fight, expressed her thanks, McDonald’s says.

“Both parties have agreed to focus on the child’s treatment and refrain from engaging in third-party activities trying to take advantage [of the case],” the statement said, adding that the two had promised to “put an end” to the dispute.

The case goes back to 2016, when a four-year-old girl fell ill after a family outing to a local McDonald’s branch. Doctors diagnosed her with HUS, a bacterial infection that can leave the renal system severely damaged. The girl now has to undergo nine hours of peritoneal dialysis every day.

Children under the age of five are known to be particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not fully developed. As the disease nickname indicates, many cases of HUS are caused by the E. coli bacteria, which can be found in undercooked meat like hamburgers.

After McDonald’s refused to cover hospital expenses, the parents sued the company in mid-2017, holding the fast food chain accountable for mismanaging its food. As four more children came forward saying they were suffering from the same disease, prosecutors launched an investigation into the company but closed the case in Feb. 2018, citing lack of evidence.

The girl’s parents were fighting McDonald’s in a civil suit before the Monday arrangement. As for the four other children, two of them were revealed to have contracted the disease during a trip to Okinawa, Japan, while the other two were found to have suffered from enteritis, not HUS.

For McDonald’s Korea, the agreement comes amid another crisis after a news report from JTBC last month showed images taken at the food chain showing it serving uncooked patties and poorly managing its food ingredients. The company said the report was “ungrounded.”

In an attempt to regain customer trust, McDonald’s announced Monday that it would open the kitchen doors of all its branches in Korea on Nov. 19, allowing customers to tour kitchens and watch the burger-making process.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]