expand in California, or if we are not able to effectively manage the increased litigation risks and expenses we have experienced in California, our business may be adversely impacted to a greater extent than if we did not operate in, or minimized our operations in, California.
Because we do not franchise, the costs of compliance and other risks associated with government regulation of our business, as described above, may be more pronounced for us than for restaurant companies at which some or all of these risks are borne by franchisees or other operating contractors.
Regulatory actions and litigation related to food safety incidents that impacted us beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015 may adversely impact us.
We are facing an ongoing government investigation into food safety incidents and related compliance measures, as described in Note 10. “Commitments and Contingencies” in our consolidated financial statements included in Item 8. “Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.” We also have received numerous claims from customers who were or claim to have been impacted by food safety incidents associated with our restaurants, and a number of those claimants have filed lawsuits against us. We are cooperating in the government investigation and with many of the customers impacted by these incidents, but will continue to incur significant legal and other costs in doing so. We have also been sued in a shareholder class action lawsuit in connection with the decline in our stock price in the wake of the food safety incidents, and defending this lawsuit will subject us to significant legal expense. Additionally, the liabilities from customer claims and related litigation expenses may be greater than we anticipate due to the uncertainties inherent in litigation. All of these costs, liabilities and expenses will negatively impact our operating results. Moreover, publicity regarding any legal proceedings related to food safety incidents may increase or prolong consumer awareness of the incidents or otherwise negatively impact perceptions of our brand, which may hamper our ability to regain lost sales or attract new customers to our restaurants.
We could be party to litigation that could adversely affect us by distracting management, increasing our expenses or subjecting us to material money damages and other remedies.
We’re subject to numerous claims alleging violations of federal and state laws regarding workplace and employment matters, including wages, work hours, overtime, vacation and family leave, discrimination, wrongful termination, and similar matters, and we could become subject to class action or other lawsuits related to these or different matters in the future. Our customers also occasionally file complaints or lawsuits against us alleging that we’re responsible for some illness or injury they suffered at or after a visit to our restaurants, or that we have problems with food quality, operations or our food related disclosure or advertising practices. See “—Governmental regulation in one or more of the following areas may adversely affect our existing and future operations and results, including by harming our ability to open new restaurants or increasing our operating costs” above, for additional discussion of these types of claims. From time to time, we also face claims alleging that technology we use in our business infringes patents held by third parties. In addition, the restaurant industry has been subject to a growing number of claims based on the nutritional content of food products sold and disclosure and advertising practices. We have been subject to a number of these actions and may be subject to additional actions of this type in the future. We are also undergoing government investigations and have been sued in a shareholder class action lawsuit, each as described elsewhere in this report, including in Note 10. “Commitments and Contingencies” in our consolidated financial statements included in Item 8. “Financial Statements and Supplementary Data,” and these matters may be particularly expensive to defend and/or resolve.
We believe the number of many of the foregoing types of claims has increased as our business has grown and we have become more visible to potential plaintiffs and their lawyers, particularly in California. Regardless of whether any claims against us are valid, or whether we’re ultimately held liable for such claims, they may be expensive to defend and may divert time and money away from our operations and hurt our performance. A significant judgment for any claims against us could materially and adversely affect our financial condition or results of operations. Any adverse publicity resulting from these allegations, whether directed at us or at fast casual or quick-service restaurants generally, may also materially and adversely affect our reputation or prospects, which in turn could adversely affect our results.
General Business Risks
We may be harmed by security risks we face in connection with our electronic processing and transmission of confidential customer and employee information.
We accept electronic payment cards for payment in our restaurants. During 2017 approximately 73% of our sales were attributable to credit and debit card transactions, and credit and debit card usage could continue to increase. A number of retailers have experienced actual or potential security breaches in which credit and debit card information may have been stolen, including a number of highly publicized incidents with well-known retailers in recent years.