Big Food may be in big trouble. That is if you listen to lawsuit-happy attorneys who went after “Big Tobacco” and now see big money in hauling fast-food restaurants ‘ aka “Big Food” ‘ into court as culprits in the fattening of America.
Lawyers who were instrumental in orchestrating the anti-tobacco lawsuits reportedly met in Boston recently to discuss strategies for suing the fast-food industry, apparently blind to the principle of personal responsibility or the costs that consumers and the economy bear from businesses that are faced with frivolous litigation.
One lawyer who was a key architect in the tobacco settlement told Reuters that trial lawyers should turn obese kids into the victims of fast-food marketing (obviously ignoring parental responsibility.) “It’s not going to work if you take obese people and blame McDonald’s for everything,” said Washington attorney John Coale, quoted by Reuters. “But the issue that does have legs is kids. You’ve got clowns, you’ve got Happy Meals — and it’s OK in moderation, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s overkill.”
McDonald’s is already facing a suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, alleging that the restaurant enticed kids and contributed to their obesity.
Proving that no institution is immune from frivolous lawsuits, in May, an attorney sued to ban the sale of Oreo cookies in California. The lawsuit was soon withdrawn.
U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., who believes Congress should intervene to combat these frivolous food suits, has introduced legislation to prevent plaintiffs from using the obesity claim to seek monetary damages from restaurants and food makers. “The thought that someone can file a lawsuit based in part on a choice they have made regarding where to dine and what to eat is disturbing,” said Washington restaurant owner Christianne Ricchi, at a recent hearing on the bill.
If these ridiculous lawsuits don’t spur Congress and rally the nation to address lawsuit reform, nothing will. Frivolous lawsuits not only consume our courts’ time and delay justice in legitimate complaints, but the lawsuit lottery hampers our economy as corporations pass the high cost of litigation onto the consumer.
Citizens for a Sound Economy, citing a study last year by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, estimated that the cost of tort litigation is “equal to a 2 percent tax on consumption, a 3 percent tax on wages, or a 5 percent tax on capital income.”
If the economic argument isn’t compelling, consider the message these lawsuits send that disclaim any sense of personal responsibility. That?s a far greater danger to society than any Happy Meal.