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Lawsuits and Supersizing

03/12/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
A bill is making its way through congress which would outlaw lawsuits directed at food producers by obsese people. It's now got the name cheeseburger bill.

In its original language, the bill's intent was to limit frivolous lawsuits. Ignore for a second who or how one decides which lawsuits are frivolous. What I'm wondering why congress has decided that we need legislative protection from frivolous lawsuits in the first place.

It's just that legislative protection for corporations against frivolous lawsuits smacks slightly of the same kind of question begging that goes on when, as a justification for keeping lawyers away from supposed terrorists, the Government uses as an excuse: but they're enemy combatants.

Come again? Doesn't that line of reasoning assume the conclusion that this whole complicated enterprise of courts and judges and juries is supposed to find out?

A few years ago, I had some business partners who were rather conservative. One was called to jury duty to serve on a criminal trial. Afterwards, when I asked him whether the accused was guilty, his answer was he was guilty of something. We all had a good laugh. In retrospect, I'm not sure if he meant it as a joke.

So back to cheeseburgers. First off, if it's a frivolous lawsuit, don't you think that the courts would realize that and dismiss them? After all, that's whats courts do.

Apparently, the sponsors of this bill seem not to have much faith in the courts to make the right decision. But what could the right decision be? I see it as one of two possibilities. The first decision is that the courts could agree that these are frivolous lawsuits and therefore, they would dismiss them and everybody would be happy. Or, perhaps, they would see these cases as having some merit, and would allow the plaintiffs to exact some sort of damages from the food industry.

Assuming that we trust the courts, and assuming that the courts make valid decisions, then shouldn't an industry that has visited real harm upon a person then be liable for making right the wrongs that it has comitted? That's what courts are for.

But suppose that's exactly what this bill is intended to prevent? Suppose we do trust the courts to make valid determinations and suppose that that is what we're afraid of. Well, then this bill is a handy little piece of legislation that has the potential to permit these companies to profit at the expense (health and otherwise) of its customers.

Of course, we haven't spoken at all of whether supersizing is a crime or not. Shouldn't Bertha Butt and her brother Pugsley have enough sense to push away from the table rather than take another swipe at a fistful of cheesy fries and another slurp of their cal-o-fat shakey-shake? Perhaps they should. But is that for the legislators to decide?

More and more evidence comes out that eating is not the voluntary free-will decision that all the personal responsibility weenies would have us believe. One group that figured this out long ago were all the fast-food marketing and advertising agencies. They are not spending the billions they do on food advertising for no reason. They know that if you advertise, and supersize, then people will eat. It's close to a pavlovian response. More advertising, more food, equals more money. To assume that everybody can simply just push away from the table is to have your head in the sand about some of the basic truths of advertising and eating.

I don't pretend for an instant to take a side in the matter. I can certainly see how easy it is to blame the fatties for not walking away from the table. Usually it's the skinny people who are doing the blaming. Of course this argument can go on and on. Look at the gun fight.

Who's guilty, the 12 yr old (yes, true story) who walked in and held up my business at gunpoint, or the gun dealers who allowed the strawman purchases, or the congress who steadfastly refused to stop the strawman purchases because they blamed the 12 yr old? I see plenty of blame to go around.

At the end of the day the real issue isn't whether there is liability in the selling of fatted, sugared, oversized portions to people, or whether that liablity rests with the people themselves.

The issue is whether this is an attempt by the sponsors of this bill to limit debate, assume that they know what the answers are (facts and research be damned), and cut off a reasonable response to what is quickly turning into the greatest and most expensive health crisis that this nation has ever seen.


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