Picture this: Nineteen-year-old Jazlyn Bradley is stuffing down two meals a day at McDonald's. Standing 5 feet 6 inches tall, she weighs 270 pounds and has diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. Her father says, "I always thought McDonald's was healthy for my children."
You swallow that? No? We didn't think so. Try this one: Gregory Rhymes, 15, has eaten at McD's almost every day since he was 6 years old. The 5-foot-6 lad weighs 400 pounds and is a diabetic. His mother says, "I always believed McDonald's food was healthy for my son."
Note the old familiar refrain. These little pieces of tragicomedy came from several New York lawsuits that sought damages from McDonald's for making people fat. It's one of the latest dreams in deep-pocket fishing. All were dismissed by a federal judge in 2003.
But plaintiff lawyers never say die. They will keep trying until they find a legal theory wacky enough — and a judge gullible enough — to unlock the coffers of Fast Food, Inc. John Banzhaf, leading guru of fat litigation (and who has lost every case so far), makes that perfectly clear: "We're going to sue them and sue them and sue them," he vows.
The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that goes a long way toward stopping these frivolous lawsuits. Known as the "Cheesburger Bill," HR 554 would put the kibosh on obesity class action lawsuits against fast food restaurants.
Now it's up to the Senate. But we've seen this dance before. The House passed a similar bill last year, only to watch it die on the Senate calendar.
The failed New York lawsuits ran through a litany of legal theories. The lawyers charged:
- "Deceptive acts and practices," claiming that a Value Meal isn't really a value;
- "Negligence" for selling food high in fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar because such foods cause obesity and can be harmful to health;
- "Failure to warn" consumers that fatty foods can make them fat;
- Marketing foods that are physically and psychologically addictive.
That's a pretty old question. More than 25 centuries ago, Plato wrote that people make bad choices only out of ignorance. If they truly know what's right, they'll always do the right thing. But one of Plato's students disagreed. Aristotle said that people can do wrong even when they know what's right. We all have the freedom to choose for better or worse — and are responsible for the consequences. Nearly 90 percent of Americans agree.
The obesity lawsuits might as well be styled Plato v. Aristotle. So far, the courts and the facts have fallen on Aristotle's side.
The first plaintiff in these lawsuits was 5-foot-10, 272-pound Caesar Barber, a diabetic with high blood pressure. Even after a heart attack and a warning from his doctor, he kept right on stuffing himself with fast food and then tried to blame McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC and Burger King.
What we have here is one more ploy by a well-known and unscrupulous combination: Greedy, crafty trial lawyers and greedy, irresponsible plaintiffs playing courtroom lottery.
There oughta be a law to stop them. If the Senate does the right thing and approves HR 554, there soon will be.