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How Fishy Is the Tuna Lawsuit Against Subway?

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Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin sued Subway in California at the end of January 2021. The two subway customers alleged that Subway’s tuna is “anything but tuna” and calling it “tuna salad” constitutes fraud and false advertising. Dhanowa and Amin alleged they had Subway tuna sandwiches tests and determined that the tests were “a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna.” Dhanowa and Amin’s attorneys hoped to get additional plaintiffs involved with the case to form a class action suit.

In a June 2021 article, the New York Times said a lab analysis of Subway tuna purchased in Los Angeles could not identify a species of fish in the tuna purchased. However, Dhanowa and Amin amended their complaint on June 7 to remove the “no tuna” claim and instead claimed that the Subway tuna did not contain “100% sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna” or might have contained tuna “from anything less than healthy stocks.” Dhanowa and Amin insist that Subway’s labeling of the sandwiches as tuna was still false and misleading advertising.

Subway has called the lawsuit baseless and outrageous and urged the court to throw out the lawsuit. Subway alleges that the negative media attention from the lawsuit has hurt thousands of franchisees by depressing sales of tuna sandwiches and tuna salads. Although Subway has revamped its menu in July 2021, it made no changes to its tuna. Subway has more than 37,500 stores worldwide.

Why Is Food Labeling Important?

Front of a Subway In California

Food labeling is generally necessary for consumer safety. People with food allergies need to know that the food they are consuming is safe. Even those without food allergies have a right to know that what they are eating is actually food. If someone gets food poisoning, doctors need to know what they their patients ate to properly treat them.

Of course, Dhanowa and Amin are alleging that they overpaid for a tuna sandwich that is not made of tuna, not that one of them got sick. To be sure, it is important that consumers get what they paid for. Real estate disclosure laws are built on the idea that realtors and sellers should disclose known defects to would-be buyers. Most people would be genuinely upset if they order a dish at a restaurant and then get an entirely different dish than what they ordered. However, the “wrong dish” scenario would be fixed by the restaurant replacing the wrong dish with the right one. Given all the great reasons to enforce false advertising laws against a fast food restaurant that purportedly isn’t serving what they are selling, why does this case seem so disingenuous?

Courts are often overburdened with an enormous volume of lawsuits. It’s understandable for the victim of a violent crime or a traumatic motorcycle accident to file a lawsuit to recover damages. Buyers who feel they have been scammed by a real estate deal may have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Victims of food poisoning may have expended several tens of thousands of dollars on medical bills.

But this case involves a relatively tiny amount of expenditures. The cost of a Subway tuna sandwich is about $12. The underlying basis for this case feels extremely petty in comparison to the damages that other plaintiffs have incurred. The original lawsuit demanded, among other things, punitive damages, attorneys fees, and disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains – i.e. the profits that Subway made from the allegedly fake tuna sandwiches. This seems very excessive for purchasing $12 sandwiches, no matter how many were purchased.

The amended complaint only underscores this pettiness – the apparent issue is no longer that Subway is allegedly serving fake tuna but that it is not 100% tuna and that the stocks are less than healthy. They seems like a serious detraction from the original claim.

Of course, expired or sick tuna could lead to food poisoning. But the phrasing “less than healthy” doesn’t state that something is actually wrong with the tuna. Dhanowa and Amin are still not claiming they got sick because of the tuna, so this backpedaling only highlights the fact that they haven’t suffered any actual illnesses. Lawsuits are often necessary to keep corporate America honest, but this case looks like it’s still looking for a fish to bait.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Food Fraud?

If you have been harmed because of a food safety violation, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. An attorney will help you understand your rights and initiate a lawsuit on your behalf and represent you in court as needed.


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