Posts Tagged ‘obesity’

“U.S. Lawyers Have Little Stomach for Obesity Cases”

“Where are the promised obesity lawsuits?” Evan Schaeffer asks, citing an April 18 Reuters story by Gail Appleman. (He miscredits Overlawyered with the prediction of particular timing, however; we simply quoted a Lawyers Weekly USA headline that in turn relied upon the public statements of plaintiffs’ attorneys.)

Schaeffer goes on to suggest that the several states that have enacted laws protecting the fast-food industry have wasted their time. But of course the states that bar obesity lawsuits aren’t seeing obesity lawsuits. The plaintiffs’ bar bragged about how they used the media to change the playing field for tobacco litigation, and the fast-food industry stepped forward to prevent an instant replay, and won the public debate–thus discouraging many lawyers from spearheading these actions so far ahead of public opinion, especially when state law prevented recovery. But Richard Daynard, speaking at an AEI conference on the subject last month, certainly didn’t sound like he was going to give up: “I think these cases in the long term may have viability.” And John Banzhaf complained just yesterday that a 93% downward revision by the CDC of the estimated effects of obesity was a corporate conspiracy that wouldn’t affect lawyers’ plans for future lifestyle litigation. (Joyce Howard Price, “CDC says obesity deaths overestimated”, Washington Times, Apr. 20). It’s to the credit of the plaintiffs’ bar that many recognize that the lifestyle litigators may have bitten off more than they can chew; one suspects that the true concern is that such litigation could create a backlash against the compensation culture that funds Trial Lawyers Inc.

There’s a strange disconnect in Schaeffer’s argument. He suggests that reformers are deliberately exaggerating the risk of lifestyle litigation to get legislation passed — but what would be the motivation for achieving that goal if the risk is exaggerated? If the plaintiffs’ bar is really opposed to lifestyle litigation, as Schaeffer suggests, why not score some cheap political points by supporting the legislation instead of fighting it so hard? A cynic might suggest that they’re trying to keep the door open for copycat litigation in case the pioneers find a jurisdiction that will let the claims proceed. As it is, the Pelman decision (Jan. 27) will likely cost McDonald’s shareholders millions of dollars in litigation costs.

“Reduced-sugar” cereals not healthier? Sue

A San Diego mother is suing the makers of such cereals as Trix, Cocoa Puffs and Froot Loops “seeking class-action status for all consumers in the state who bought the low-sugar cereals thinking they were healthier than full-sugar versions.” The manufacturers, her suit alleges, substitute other refined carbohydrates for the missing sugar, leaving calorie count and nutritional value little changed. (“Mother sues cereal makers over ‘lower-sugar’ slogan”, AP/Pasadena Star-News, Mar. 28; Greg Moran, “Mother sues over cereal nutrition”, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, Mar. 29; “Mother sues over ‘deceiving’ cereal labels”,, Mar. 30). Among those who wonder why she couldn’t have looked more closely at the nutrition label in the first place: Christine Hurt, GeoBandy, and commenters at DrudgeRetort. See also Mr. Sun.

Morgan Spurlock sued

Attorney Samuel Hirsch, who filed the first lawsuits blaming fast-food chains for his clients’ obesity, apparently isn’t happy over his unflattering portrayal in the documentary Super Size Me (see last Aug. 9). According to the New York Observer, Hirsch is suing filmmaker Morgan Spurlock and Samuel Goldwyn Films charging “Negligence, Unauthorized Use of Likeness, Disparagement to Reputation, and Defamation of Character, Fraudulent Inducement, False Misrepresentation, Damage to Business Reputation”; he’s seeking compensatory and punitive damages and “disgorgement of profits.” (Jake Brooks, “Spurlock’s Super Size Lawsuit”, New York Observer, Mar. 7)(likely to rotate off free site soon).

In N.M. for now, no “Right To Eat Enchiladas”

By enacting “cheeseburger bills” (see Mar. 13, Mar. 17 and Dec. 3, 2004) state legislators can attempt to make clear (in case courts had any doubt about the matter) that there is no cause of action against food purveyors for causing obesity in those who partake of their wares. Such bills have been making progress around the country, with 12 state legislatures enacting them in 2004 and others likely to follow this year. New Mexico, however, will not be among those states: both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee have voted to shelve the idea on narrow party-line votes, with Democrats opposed to the legislation and Republicans in favor. “I don’t dispute the idea of personal responsibility, but I dispute the notion that any tort action is on its face frivolous,” said Rep. Gail Beam (D-Albuquerque), who chairs the House consumer committee. The bill had earlier passed the Senate Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Its sponsors, Sen. Steve Komadina (R-Corrales) and Rep. Terry Marquardt (R-Alamogordo), had given it a locally adaptive title: the “Right To Eat Enchiladas Act”. (“Legislative roundup”, The New Mexican (Santa Fe), Feb. 23; Erin Madigan, “‘Cheeseburger’ bills fill state lawmakers’ plates”,, Feb. 15).

AEI: Who Is to Blame for Obesity?

A webcast of today’s American Enterprise Institute panel on obesity and lifestyle litigation is now on-line. I spoke at the second panel, moderated by AEI’s Michael Greve, along with activists Richard Daynard and Alison Rein, and Thomas Haynes of the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association. Todd Zywicki moderated an earlier panel on empirical research on the causes of obesity.

Holiday-dinner-table obesity roundup

The Centers for Disease Control admitted last week that a much-touted estimate of enormous mortality rates resulting from increasing obesity in America was wrong and arose from incorrect methodology; it promises a revised and lower estimate (Gina Kolata, “Data on Deaths From Obesity Is Inflated, U.S. Agency Says”, New York Times, Nov. 24; Radley Balko, Nov. 24; Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Nov. 24; Jim Copland, PointOfLaw, Nov. 24 and Nov. 30). The National Institutes of Health’s body mass index is also falling into disrepute for overrating the incidence of obesity (Gina Kolata, “Tell the Truth: Does This Index Make Me Look Fat?”, New York Times, Nov. 28)(see Apr. 29-30, 2002).

As for lawsuits, the scary Public Health Advocacy Institute, where trial lawyers meet dietitians, held its second annual conference in September, with opening remarks by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) (Marguerite Higgins, “Anti-obesity group mulls swell in suits”, Washington Times, Sept. 19; “Lawyers see obese U.S. ripe for fat lawsuits”, Sept. 20; Center for Consumer Freedom, “Looking For Lawsuits In All The Wrong Places”, Sept. 24). The food-industry-defense Center for Consumer Freedom (“Don’t Sue the Hand That Feeds You”) has prepared a “Thanksgiving Guest Liability and Indemnification Agreement” (PDF) (via LawfulGal, Nov. 25) and has also (Sept. 27) compiled a list of the “Ten Dumbest Food Cop Ideas” of the year. These include law prof John Banzhaf’s proposals for suing parents of obese children and doctors who fail to warn their obese patients against overeating; Texas officials’ edict against schoolkids’ sharing of snacks; and a proposal by the New Zealand health minister to apply age restrictions, in the manner of carding for alcohol and tobacco purchases, to keep kids from buying hamburgers, pie and candy. A Deloitte consumer opinion survey (“The Weight Debate”, last updated Jul. 14) finds the public overwhelmingly opposed to lawsuits against restaurants.

Read On…

Super-sized something

“Although [filmmaker Morgan Spurlock in Super-Size Me] generally presents critics of McDonald’s as public-spirited activists, he can’t resist taking a shot at Samuel Hirsch [Jul. 25 and Sept. 12, 2002; Jan. 23, Mar. 25-30 and Jun. 20, 2003], the lawyer who filed the first two obesity lawsuits against fast food restaurants. When Hirsch is asked his motive for getting involved in such litigation, he looks puzzled. ‘You mean, motive besides monetary compensation?’ he says. ‘You want to hear a noble cause?’ That’s his only appearance in the film.” (Jacob Sullum, “Big Mac Attack”, Reason, Jul.). Update Mar. 23, 2005: Hirsch sues Spurlock and film distributor.

Suing Atkins for publicity

An animal-rights group that calls itself the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is assisting a disappointed dieter in suing the Atkins people over allegedly failing to warn that levels of bad cholesterol can rise on a meat-rich diet. A torts professor quoted by the Times says the complaint “reads as if it were done by someone who is doing it for reasons of publicity rather than private gain”, and even the named plaintiff pretty much admits that it’s more about headline-seeking than anything else. (Marian Burros, “Dieter Sues Atkins Estate and Company”, New York Times, May 27). Does the self-proclaimed Physicians Committee want publicity, then? Here’s some: National Council Against Health Fraud, Brian Carnell, Center for Consumer Freedom commentary and press release, . Together these links tell you all you probably need to know about the PCRM, which has also been extensively quoted in the press as a cheerleader for lawsuits against McDonald’s and other burger chains. Plus: yet more from CCF.

New batch of reader letters

We’ve posted four more entries from our alarmingly backed-up pipeline of reader letters, on our letters page. Among topics this time: the oddly divergent views of Wisconsin’s governor on the protection of lawful activities, with special reference to cheeseburger-selling and helmetless cycling; the recently announced class action settlement in Lamb v. Wells Fargo; complaints that some Texas jury pools are now “tainted” against lawsuits; and U-Haul’s role as bystander in the Ford Explorer litigation frenzy.