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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Obsity suits against McDonald’s thrown out

NEW YORK (REUTERS) — McDonald’s Corp. won a major victory for the fast-food industry Wednesday when a federal judge threw out a widely watched lawsuit that blamed Big Macs, fries and Chicken McNuggets for obesity in children.

U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet said the plaintiffs — including a 400-pound teenager who said he eats at McDonald’s every day — failed to show that customers of the world’s largest fast-food chain were unaware that eating too much McDonald’s fare could be unhealthy.

But the judge did not let McDonald’s off the hook completely. Referring to Chicken McNuggets as a “McFrankenstein creation” of elements not used by home cooks, he said the plaintiffs could refile their case with information backing their claim that diners have no idea what is really in their food or that the products have allegedly become more harmful because of processing.


At issue, the judge said, is where to draw the line between personal responsibility and society’s responsibility to protect individuals. He also cited concerns the case could “spawn thousands of similar ‘McLawsuits'” against all types of restaurants.

“This opinion is guided by the principle that legal consequences should not attach to the consumption of hamburgers and other fast-food fare unless consumers are unaware of the dangers of eating such food,” Sweet said.

“If consumers know … the potential ill health effect of eating at McDonald’s, they cannot blame McDonald’s if they, nonetheless, choose to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald’s products.”

Samuel Hirsch, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said it was “premature” for McDonald’s to celebrate the decision and that he planned to refile the suit within 30 days.

“There is language in the court’s decision which strongly supports some of our arguments,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ruling brought at least a temporary sigh of relief from corporate America, which feared fast food would become the next target of the trial lawyers who have engulfed the asbestos and tobacco industries with litigation.

“We are hopeful this ruling will deter others from filing abusive, frivolous lawsuits that further encumber our judicial system. We maintain that this lawsuit was senseless and baseless, and this ruling confirms our position,” said the National Restaurant Association.

The suit was brought on behalf of overweight children who ate at two McDonald’s restaurants in the Bronx borough of New York City. One of the named plaintiffs is a 15-year-old who said he weighs 400 pounds and has diabetes after eating McDonald’s food every day since he was six.

The plaintiffs sought unspecified damages, blaming McDonald’s for health problems that included diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

The suit was one of at least four cases filed against McDonald’s and other fast-food chains over the obesity issue. At least two cases have been dropped and another is dormant.

Sweet’s ruling said McDonald’s had rightfully pointed out that the case was the first of its kind to reach this stage in federal court and could result in thousands of copycat cases.

The judge noted that Americans spend more than $110 billion on fast food each year and cited studies showing that, on any given day in the United States, almost one in four adults visits a fast-food restaurant.

“The potential for lawsuits is even greater given the numbers of persons who eat food prepared at other restaurants in addition to those serving fast food,” Sweet said.

Sweet cited reports that show almost half of the American food dollar is spent on food eaten away from home. His ruling also states that today there are nearly twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980.

He said the court had a duty to “limit the legal consequences of wrongs to a controllable degree and to protect against crushing exposure to liability.”

McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, said it has been providing nutritional information about its food for 30 years and hailed the decision as a victory for common sense.

“We trusted the court to use its common sense to dismiss this claim. That’s exactly what the judge has done. Common sense has prevailed,” McDonald’s said in a statement. “We said from the beginning that this was a frivolous lawsuit. Today’s ruling confirms that fact.”

McDonald’s stock showed little reaction to the ruling, trading off 1 cent to $15.33 in the afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.

Corporate defense attorneys also welcomed the decision, but expected trial lawyers would devise other ways of going after fast-food restaurants.

“I’m delighted by [Sweet’s ruling] because it is so utterly correct,” said Thomas Bezanson, a partner at law firm Chadbourne & Parke of New York.

He said the ruling should discourage similar suits for a time, but predicted personal injury lawyers would eventually bring new cases.

“They are a talented and determined group of attorneys not to be underestimated,” he said. “There will be new ones. You can be sure of it.”

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