Lawyers See Fat Payoffs in Junk Food Lawsuits

  1. From

    Lawyers See Fat Payoffs in Junk Food Lawsuits

    Wednesday, January 23, 2002
    By Michael Y. Park

    NEW YORK-Put down that pizza! Toss out that cookie dough! And banish those burgers and root beers.

    That is, unless you want to join the millions of Americans who are potential plaintiffs in an increasingly less hypothetical lawsuit that could change the way the U.S. eats.

    Now that Surgeon General David Satcher has declared obesity America's soon-to-be-number one killer, class-action lawyers and others may be eyeing legal action against everyone from fast-food chains to the nation's leading snack food companies.

    Some see precedent for such action in the slew of lawsuits that have been successfully brought against the nation's cigarette makers.

    "As we're getting more and more figures saying just how dangerous obesity is, people are wondering if tactics used against the tobacco industry very successfully and other problems such as guns less successfully could be used against the problem of obesity," said John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School.

    But others say that taking fast-food and candy companies to court for selling - surprise - fast food and candy is going too far.

    "This could be a case where good intentions have a perverse outcome," Hudson Institute fellow and government-regulation specialist Michael Horowitz said. "It's important to preserve notions of individual accountability and responsibility."

    And Walter Olson, a Manhattan Institute fellow specializing in legal-system issues, said that if a class-action lawsuit against Big Food were to be successful, Americans might not like the consequences.

    "A quarter of people smoke, but most of the population eats things that are not good for us," he said. "They will act seriously if we try to take away their M & Ms and Slushies."

    The idea has nonetheless gained more currency after Satcher's December 2001 "call to action," in which he said being overweight or obese would soon be responsible for more preventable disease and death than cigarette smoking.

    Satcher called on Americans to give people healthier food and exercise options at school and at work, watch less TV, change the way they think about obesity and do more research on the causes for and prevention of being overweight.

    "People tend to think of overweight and obesity as strictly a personal matter, but there is much that communities can and should do to address these problems," Satcher said in a press release.

    And it's not just a matter for the fatter to worry about, he said. He blamed obesity and being overweight for taking part in 300,000 American deaths a year and for costing the U.S. a total of $117 billion in 2000. As of 1999, some 61 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, along with a side dish of 13 percent of children and adolescents, he said.

    Now people like New York University nutrition and food sciences professor Marion Nestle are saying it might be time to follow the lead of the legal tactics that smoked out Big Tobacco.

    "These companies can't behave like cigarette companies," said Nestle, author of the soon-to-be-published Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. "(Yet) there's lot of people who benefit from people being fat and sick, and the whole setup is designed to make people eat more. ... So the response to the food industry should be very similar to what happened with the tobacco companies.

    "You're asking people to control what they eat when the food industry spends $30 billion and more on marketing designed to make them eat more," Nestle said.

    Banzhaf, a public-interest lawyer, argued it was less about the people who are obese than the rest of society, which has to bear the burden of the overweight in the form of healthcare costs, lost revenue and other indirect costs.

    "Where we have a problem which imposes a huge cost on society by a relatively small number of people, it's appropriate that that cost shouldn't be borne by everybody but confined to those who use the products or produce them," he said. "Of that $115 billion, a lot is borne by people who aren't obese. Why should I be forced to subsidize other people's bad habits?"

    Banzhaf said a suitable way to shift the weight of responsibility back onto the appropriately plump shoulders would be through class-action lawsuits, which would penalize the companies who make and market sugary nothings and, in the form of higher price tags on hot dogs and gooey confections, discourage people with eating problems from overindulging.

    think nurses could get in on these lawsuits? "Because YOU let him "have it your way", he ended up in the hospital and in doing my job which included lifting all that McCellulite, I dislocated several disc and am now permanently disabled. Your negligence, Mr Fast Food CEO, ruined my life!".
  2. 17 Comments

  3. by   Q.
    Tracy, where did you dig this up?? Oh my god how pathetic.

    HELLO??? Individual CHOICE?????
    My god.
  4. by   Stargazer
    Oh, help me, Jeebus. People get dumber every day.

    Ironically, my old hospital sells Godfather's Pizza and Dunkin' Donuts in the cafeteria, leading to many bad PTCA/pizza jokes. And what about the elementary, junior and senior high schools who who lease out their cafeterias to Coke, Pepsi, Taco Bell and McDonald's?

    I can see sueing a hospital or school before I could see sueing a food manufacturer for doing, y'know, what they're in business to do.

    Maybe I should sue Haagen Daaz for my unfortunate addiction to Swiss Vanilla Almond?
  5. by   kaycee
    This issue has been tossed around on radio talk shows for a while now. Mostly joking but some are serious. Hell if you can sue big tobacco if you get lung cancer why can't you sue McDonalds if you have a heart attack because of the high fat high cholesterol content. Remember the idiot that put HOT coffee between her legs while driving and sued because she got burned. OH MY GOD McDonalds never warned her that the coffee was hot. DUH. Oh don't get me started.
    They better start putting warnings on those french fries. What, they're not good for me, no way, no one ever told me.
    Where's my lawyer??
  6. by   night owl
    a lawsuit for [size=large]{{{farting}}}???[/size]...oops...sorry! ...hazardous to everyone elses health...except mine of course. :d

    with some of my choices, i could be making millions in lawsuit money... let's see...i could sue pizza hut, mickeyd's, dairy queen, dunkin' donut, kfc, burger king, wendy's, arby's .............
    when i have my heart attack, i can sue all of them for one big lump sum and then really live it up!!!
  7. by   nurs4kids
    I saw this tonight on my local news..I'm sure they got it off foxnews. I got to thinkin'..

    you know who's gonna pay..
    the consumer

    lawyer gets richer...
    fast food raises prices to compensate for legal fees...

    <sigh> i gotta find a cheap habit..they outpriced me on cigs and now it's gonna be my burgers and shakes. hmpf.
  8. by   Dplear
    Ok lets se...the hospital I work at has a Mcdonalds in one of the building lobbies.. (McD's is owned by the hospital) in the newest building they own a Chick Fil-A, a subway, a Villa Pizza and a Starbucks ripoff coffe house. Think we could sue the hospital for failure to provide a safe work enviroment?


    yea though I walk through the Valley of Death I fear no evil for I am the meanest MotherF***er around.
  9. by   Q.
    How about MY hospital before they got Cousins in there that served bacteria infested swill and something that resembled Sh*t on a Shingle that caused diarrhea?

    Sometimes fast food is a BETTER choice.
    How true Suzy...

    At my hospital, the cafeteria workers can be witnessed in line at McDonald's on their breaks

  11. by   GLORIAmunchkin72
    I thought lawsuits without merit get tossed out and do not make it to court. Who sorts these things out?
  12. by   nurseygrrl
    Nowadays people will find any reason to sue. That's one of the main things that changed the face of healthcare.
  13. by   Marie_LPN, RN
    Hey i ate a lot of Krispy Kreme donuts and got a cavity in a molar. Can i sue too?????
  14. by   nurseygrrl
    I should sue Jolly Rancher! You know how many times I broke a tooth on those gooey little things? :chuckle