Not so long ago, self-described “legal terrorist” John Banzhaf proclaimed of lawsuits blaming restaurants for individuals’ food choices: “Somewhere there is going to be a judge and a jury that will buy this, and once we get the first verdict, as we did with tobacco, it will open the floodgates.” Banzhaf’s threat has renewed relevance following yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals to reinstate a frivolous obesity lawsuit brought by trial lawyer Samuel Hirsch (now representing kids after he dropped his first client, obese janitor Caesar Barber). Banzhaf, who never fails to remind us that he’s an “advisor” to Hirsch when there’s a chance to be quoted, insists yesterday’s decision will open the door to “many more obesity lawsuits.”
Although yesterday’s ruling was based on a technicality, the usual crowd of diet dictators was quick to claim vindication. The Public Health Advocacy Institute’s Richard “Even Trial Lawyers Call Me Greedy” Daynard told The Wall Street Journal the ruling “indicates that the allegations are serious ones that need to be seriously examined. These are not frivolous cases.” (subscription required) Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest gave her support to obesity lawsuits in a Financial Times story. Meanwhile, Bloomberg News quotes the Center for Consumer Freedom saying:
It’s a shame that the courts will now have to spend more time and money teaching a few money-hungry lawyers what the rest of us have known since kindergarten … Individuals are responsible for their own food choices.
Of course, the motive for these lawsuits is big, green, and rhymes with honey. In 2003, Hirsch admitted “he took the McDonald’s case for money, as he does every case.” And citing the grossly exaggerated figure that obesity costs $117 billion each year, Banzhaf insists: “A fast-food company like McDonald’s may not be responsible for the entire obesity epidemic, but let’s say they’re 5 percent responsible. Five percent of $117 billion is still an enormous amount of money.” Banzhaf also proclaimed: “I would not be surprised to see McDonald’s paying more than $50 billion over the next decade.” (To see our award-winning ads skewering trial lawyers, click here.)
In his original ruling, District Court Judge Robert Sweet wrote: “If a person knows or should know that eating copious orders of super-sized McDonalds’ products is unhealthy and may result in weight gain … it is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses.” Sweet also asked some important questions:
What else did the plaintiffs eat? How much did they exercise? Is there a family history of the diseases which are alleged to have been caused by McDonald’s products?
Even a not-so-wise man named Banzhaf has said, “Everybody knows that, if you want to lose weight, you eat less, less calorie input, and more exercise. You don’t have to learn that.”