Originally created 02/24/03

Hungry for some scapegoat?



Congress would provide a fine service to the country if it would approve tort reform, the kind that would cap awards at a reasonable rate and help curb, if not get rid of, frivolous lawsuits. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be in the cards for now, so some lawmakers are, instead, targeting specific tort abuses.

A bill filed by U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., would exempt restaurants from being liable for consumers' health problems. It's designed to stop lawsuits that blame Big Macs and french fries for obesity and diabetes.

Keller's Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act wouldn't stop lawsuits in cases where restaurants or food manufacturers fail to comply with regulatory requirements and cause illnesses, such as E. coli.

Keller says, "We think that most people understand that it's common sense that if you eat unlimited amounts of Supersize fries and milkshakes and Big Macs ... that can possibly lead to obesity and things like diabetes, cardiovascular disease."

The bill was filed after a federal judge in New York threw out a class-action lawsuit that blamed McDonald's food for children's health problems. The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Samuel Hirsch, says he plans to amend the suit and refile it.

Keller says such suits could set dangerous precedents. They not only absolve people of being responsible for their own dietary excesses, they also set up the incongruous scenario where teen-age kids who work in fast-food eateries would, like bartenders, have to decide when to cut off customers they think have eaten too much: "Sorry, Mister. You've had enough. I can't serve you that chocolate shake, too."

Blaming restaurants for people's health problems is simply an effort by plaintiffs' lawyers to dig into the deep pockets of successful fast-food franchises like they have tobacco and asbestos companies. Keller's bill deserves support - it could even be a first step toward more substantive tort reform.