A cabal of fat-cat trial lawyers are poised to launch an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits to cash in on the debate over America’s weight. From restaurants and food producers, to doctors, schools, and even parents, no target is too big or small for these sharks who see dollar signs where the rest of us see dinner.
Their strategy is clear: In order to woo a jury into dismissing any vestige of common sense, they have to shift the blame for America’s allegedly burgeoning bellies away from a lack personal responsibility and onto those with the deepest pockets. They know they face an uphill battle, but they are in for the long haul. Or as lawsuit ringleader John Banzhaf put it: “We’re going to sue them and sue them and sue them.“
Click on the timeline below for more information on the cadre of trial lawyers set to litigate away a host of food choices:
- July 24, 2002 — With Banzhaf serving as an advisor, trial lawyer Samuel Hirsch files a lawsuit against McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s on behalf of Caesar Barber, an obese 56-year-old man. The suit is soon withdrawn, but quickly followed by a second suit against just McDonald’s. This time, the plaintiffs are a more media-friendly group of children.
- January 22, 2003 — Federal District Judge Thomas Sweet dismisses Hirsch’s second case, saying: “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.”
- April 10, 2003 — Introducing a bill to limit frivolous lawsuits against restaurants and food producers, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declares that obesity lawsuits “subvert the democratic process.”
- May 8, 2003 — After losing his first suit, lawsuit ringleader John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf claims that “addictive” foods are a ripe target. He also dismisses the notion of personal responsibility, saying: “…all these platitudes about, ‘people should eat less,’ ‘responsibility,’ all this crap!”
- May 13, 2003 — Attorney Stephen Joseph files a lawsuit to prevent California children from buying Oreo cookies. With their tongue firmly planted in cheek, the Wall Street Journal opines: “If you thought the real dangers to children’s health were smoking, drugs or drunk driving, you are clearly old-fashioned. The new threat is from Oreo cookies.”
- June 20, 2003 — The country’s greediest trial lawyers, boldest food nannies, and most outlandish academics gather at the first annual Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conference “intended to encourage and support litigation against the food industry.”
- July 1, 2003 — Banzhaf threatens to sue school boards that allow vending machines in their schools. He even suggests that he might go after individual school board members.
- September 5, 2003 — Judge Sweet permanently dismisses Hirsch’s lawsuit against McDonald’s.
- October 29, 2003 — PHAI’s then-executive director Ben Kelley writes to eight food companies demanding that they take the blame for America’s burgeoning waistline. If people don’t slim down, Kelley warns, trial lawyers will pounce.
- March 10, 2004 — The House of Representatives passes a “cheeseburger bill” to limit obesity lawsuits.
- July 8, 2004 — Richard Daynard of PHAI brags to the New York Times that “the institute will file suits against the food industry within the year.”
- July 30, 2004 — Illinois became the twelfth state to pass legislation to protect restaurants and food producers from frivolous lawsuits.
- September 1, 2004 — Nutrition nag-in-chief Marion Nestle tells the New York Times Magazine that “there are hordes of lawyers” looking to sue food makers for causing obesity.
- September 17, 2004 — Trial lawyers from around the country meet at the second annual PHAI conference. This time Banzhaf ups the ante, arguing that they could even sue doctors and parents, in addition to restaurants, food producers, insurance companies and school boards. At the conference, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s litigation director Steven Gardner gives a lecture titled: “Patience, hell. Let’s sue somebody.”
- January 25, 2005 — Based solely on a technicality, a federal judge reinstates the ridiculous case against McDonald’s. Daynard tells The Wall Street Journal the ruling “indicates that the allegations are serious ones that need to be seriously examined. These are not frivolous cases.” Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest gave her support to obesity lawsuits in a Financial Times story.