Obesity Suit Against McDonald's Dismissed
January 22, 2003 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Obesity Suit Against McDonald's Dismissed... well there goes my plans for a new house.
posted by darian (39 comments total)
 
of course it was.

just like lewis black said:

"i had no idea that fat, cooked in fat, was fat!"
posted by grabbingsand at 11:28 AM on January 22, 2003


"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."

How does this argument work for McD's and not for the cigarette manufacturers?

Some may view this as a frivolous lawsuit, and it may well be, but I still believe that McDonald's has a lot to answer for. There still should be an accounting of the damage that has been caused to our health, our farmers, our workers, and our environment by this company. Perhaps their shrinking profits will provide the motivation to change rather than a lawsuit.
posted by pejamo at 11:35 AM on January 22, 2003


What, you mean the legal system worked just like it was supposed to, identified the clearly spurious claim and prevented an unfair recovery?

Well, that's no fun. Better that this story gets swept right under the rug, so that tort-reform advocates and other lawyer-haters can use the "fat people suing McDonalds" story for years.

Hey, it worked for the "stupid people spilling coffee and suing McDonalds for it" story!
posted by yhbc at 11:39 AM on January 22, 2003


I think the difference is that McDonald's never lied about the healthfulness of their food, nor did they add substances to make their food addictive.

It would be nice if people just stopped eating fast food, but I don't see that happening. While McDonald's is not on my list of corporations that make the world a better place, until they start handing out cyanide burgers, I don't begrudge their existence. Much.
posted by frykitty at 11:42 AM on January 22, 2003


until they start handing out cyanide burgers...

What, dioxin burgers aren't bad enough?
posted by soyjoy at 11:47 AM on January 22, 2003


"What, you mean the legal system worked just like it was supposed to, identified the clearly spurious claim and prevented an unfair recovery?"

If the claim was clearly spurious, the weaselattorney who took the case and his money-grubbing co-conspiratorsclients ought to have to pay McDonald's attorneys' fees.

Sounds fair to me.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:48 AM on January 22, 2003


yhbc - the coffee story's a bad analogy. That would work if McDonald's food, in order to taste the way it does, literally crawled into your heart and starting kicking things. The coffee was not "too hot", it was lethally insanely WAY WAY WAY too hot. All the poor woman did was get mcdonalds to serve coffee at a temperature that won't burn the skin off your thighs if you spill it.
posted by jonson at 11:51 AM on January 22, 2003


How does this argument work for McD's and not for the cigarette manufacturers?

There is a huge difference between fast food and cigarettes.

1) Cigarette manufacturers lied (many times under oath) to the government and the public about the health risks involved in smoking, while McD's has been upfront about what goes into their food.

2) Cigarette manufacturers broke the law (by marketing to children), McD broke no such laws.

3) Finally, cigarette manufacturers intentionally placed addictive chemicals in cigarettes. The cigarette industry itself created demand by robbing its customers of their free will, while people who ate McD’s food of their own free will.

There still should be an accounting of the damage that has been caused to our health, our farmers, our workers, and our environment by this company.

There are other laws already in place to deal with these types of violations/problems. And as you alluded to, there is always the power of consumer to vote with his/her dollar to get McDs to make changes.
posted by Bag Man at 11:51 AM on January 22, 2003


In a major victory for the fast food industry...

I think that pretty much sums it up. It's them against us. In a nutshell, junk food tastes nice and people will not be told to eat fruit and nuts.
posted by oh posey at 11:52 AM on January 22, 2003


No one twists another's arm to eat there... It was a stupid lawsuit.
posted by LouReedsSon at 11:56 AM on January 22, 2003


If the claim was clearly spurious, the weaselattorney who took the case and his money-grubbing co-conspiratorsclients ought to have to pay McDonald's attorneys' fees.

Of course this would have a chilling effect on people filing all suits. Those who are poor and could not afford to lose a case would simply never bring one, even one that had merit. The law suit is powerful tool to check corporate power and wrong doing; it should be made available to all. I'm surprise to see such a pro-corporate post on MIFI.
posted by Bag Man at 11:57 AM on January 22, 2003


Thankfully the judge had good sense on this one. I love McDonald's, eat there probably once a week, but I do know that it's bad for me. All of the nutritional (I use the term lightly) information is readily available to those that can read. (i.e. a Big Mac meal is nearly an entire day's worth of caloric intake.)
posted by MediaMan at 11:58 AM on January 22, 2003


The part of thinking *I* liked about this was:

"limit the legal consequences of wrongs to a controllable degree and to protect against crushing exposure to liability."

I for one welcome the reaffirmation of the Corporate overlords.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2003


frykitty:

It would be nice if people just stopped eating fast food, but I don't see that happening.

neither do i. when you're pretty poor, and a few bucks gets you quite a large meal from mcdonalds, i think it's pretty easy to begin to prefer them over smaller-portioned if healthier options.

fast food in and of itself is not a bad thing. it may be fatty, but there's no need to wholly deny yourself from eating it. i don't eat much fast food anymore, and almost never mcdonalds when i do eat fast food. but the thing is not to make mcdonalds, or fast food in general, a regular part of your lifestyle. but i think fast food is very tempting, their prices being so low, for those that don't make much money.
posted by moz at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2003


Re: paying McDonald's fees - that may well happen, crash - if it really was spurious (and brought in bad faith). I was using a little hyperbole; I don't know if that is really the case or not. Generally, a judge can order the loser to pay the winner's legal fees if there's an express finding of bad faith, but that's the exception. The general rule in the American system is that each side pays their own legal fees, no matter who wins. If there really is an area of the system that needs changing, this may be the only part I'd identify; although, as Bag Man points out, the "American system" does assure access to the courts - kind of.

And jonson, I mentioned the coffee story because it's still often brought up as "stupid woman sues McDonald's, wins millions", while what's left unsaid are the facts that (1) she was horribly burned, as you note, (2) McD has since lowered the coffee temp, and (3) the monetary award was reduced to a more reasonable amount, and most of the punitive damages were eliminated altogether. I just have the feeling that the same thing - selective reportage - will happen in this case also.
posted by yhbc at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2003


I'm surprise to see such a pro-corporate post on MIFI.

Yeah, Crash. Haven't you read the Mefi manifesto? We have one and only one point of view here.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:15 PM on January 22, 2003


Re: spurious lawsuits, that was my point as well, Commish, which Bag Man may have missed. I'm not suggesting that a "loser pays" system in all cases is the way to go, but I am suggesting that there's no clear disincentive in the system the way it is to head off ridiculous lawsuits (which, in my opinion, this suit was). People are rolling the dice, hoping to make millions off crap like this, and there's no down side for them if their ploy fails.

If there is a "bad faith" order possibility, I think it should be exercised more often, starting with this case.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:18 PM on January 22, 2003


McD's has been upfront about what goes into their food.

they have? well they certainly weren't too upfront about beef fat in the french fries before they were sued.
posted by gluechunk at 12:19 PM on January 22, 2003


Yeah, Crash. Haven't you read the Mefi manifesto? We have one and only one point of view here.

Here's the ironic post of the day, PinkStainlessTail don't you know sarcasm when you here it? But, then again I know you do and I know you known I do. Them againt, most MIFIs do read the MEFI manifesto and follow it closely.

Re: spurious lawsuits, that was my point as well, Commish, which Bag Man may have missed.

Um no, there is already a system (i.e. a 12(b)(6) motion) in place to get rid of spurious suits and it worked at least in this case. Not to mention, if the lawyer is working on contingency (lawyer gets paid out of the clients winnings) the lawyer will not get paid if the suit is spurious.

they have? well they certainly weren't too upfront about beef fat in the french fries before they were sued.

I was referring to the nutritional content of their product, with is readily available (unlike cigs.).
posted by Bag Man at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2003


How does this argument work for McD's and not for the cigarette manufacturers?

It shouldn't have worked for cigarette manufacturers either. You are inhaling smoke, dumbass, what do you think is going to happen?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:38 PM on January 22, 2003


Bag Man:

Nutritional content of cigarettes, when smoked: 0 Calories, 0 gm Carbohydrates, 0g Protein, 0g Fat.

I couldn't tell you what the nutritional benefit would be if you ate a cigarette, but I doubt you're really interested in that. If you respond like the border collie that lived in my fraternity house, you'd probably puke it up anyway....
posted by trharlan at 12:51 PM on January 22, 2003


Bag Man:

Nutritional content of cigarettes, when smoked: 0 Calories, 0 gm Carbohydrates, 0g Protein, 0g Fat.

I couldn't tell you what the nutritional benefit would be if you ate a cigarette, but I doubt you're really interested in that. If you respond like the border collie that lived in my fraternity house, you'd probably puke it up anyway....


Cure and glib, but a bit off base. What do when you consume a Big Mac? You eat it, thus it's nutritional content is important. What do you do when you consume a cig.? You smoke it by inhaling its contents. Thus, you need not know the Calories, Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat, but you need to know other facts. Those facts are not provided. The health facts relevant to McD's products are known and displayed, but those in cigs are not.
posted by Bag Man at 1:00 PM on January 22, 2003


It's just a matter of time before Professor Banzhaf gets his way.
posted by oh posey at 1:01 PM on January 22, 2003


Dow Jones News reports:

"Samuel Hirsch, an attorney for the overweight McDonald's patrons, couldn't immediately be reached.

Mr. Hirsch filed several suits last year that received widespread attention, including one against McDonald's, Burger King Corp., Yum Brands Inc.'s (YUM) KFC and Wendy's International Inc. (WEN) on behalf of a 270-pound New York City maintenance worker. "


Well, now, I hope that not getting paid is enough to deter this fine, upstanding member of the legal community from other such nonsense.

But I bet it isn't.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:05 PM on January 22, 2003


I don't know how "cheap" McDonald's is. If you're talking about the cost of eating in a restaurant, then yes, it's cheap. But for the cost of say, three or four servings of fries, you could buy a ten-pound bag of potatoes and bake 'em in the microwave as required. Add a little salt and pepper and you have a quick easy snack that's cheaper and waaaaaaay healthier than fries.
posted by orange swan at 2:05 PM on January 22, 2003


Attorneys fees are already available as a sanction against the attorney who brought the suit and his law firm under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

If the prevailing party can show that the claim was not warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous extension, modification or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law, then the court can award sanctions against the losing party and/or his attorney. Sanctions under Rule 11 may include attorney fees and other expenses incurred as a direct result of the violation.

It is generally thought in the legal community that Rule 11 and similar rules in state courts are a sufficient deterrent to frivolous claims.

A "loser pays" system will chill the assertion of valid claims and weigh the scales of justice in favor of the deep pocket. Rule 11 sanctions, which are more common than the public generally believes, properly deter the frivolous litigant without discouraging proper claims.
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:39 PM on January 22, 2003


*bangs head against wall*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:46 PM on January 22, 2003


One caveat, mygoditsbob - Rule 11 sanctions may be relatively common, but payment of them is probably not as common. By which I mean, a judgment-proof (and unethical) attorney will still bring frivolous suits because if he wins, he wins big; if he loses, hey - you can't get blood from a stone!

Furthermore, I think that although most everyone (including the lawyers) reading this thread and the case itself would characterize the suit as "frivolous", there's still not likely to be any sanctions handed out in this case itself. For one thing, the cigarette case precedents alone are probably enough of an argument that the claim was based on a non-frivolous extension or modification of existing law.
posted by yhbc at 2:57 PM on January 22, 2003


There is a real distinction between the cigarette cases and the fat cases. Cigarette companies lied and lied and lied about the health effect of the product all through the 50's, 60's 70's and 80's. Hooked a lot of people on a product that had signifigantly addictive properties.

By the way yhbc, judgment proof and unethical lawyers tend to find other lines of work. You might not believe it, but check the disposition of ethical complaints in your state, the bar is pretty good at policing its ranks. Here in Minnesota, there have been several lawyers subject to ethical sanction for asserting frivolous positions in the last few years.
posted by mygoditsbob at 3:10 PM on January 22, 2003


Mr. Hirsch filed several suits last year that received widespread attention, including one against McDonald's, Burger King Corp., Yum Brands Inc.'s (YUM) KFC and Wendy's International Inc. (WEN) on behalf of a 270-pound New York City maintenance worker.

They never should have changed their name. They much more menacing-sounding when they were called Tricon Global Holding Corp.
posted by SweetJesus at 4:18 PM on January 22, 2003


mcdonald's do target children, arguably.
'the judge in the 'McLibel' trial ruled that McDonald's advertising and marketing exploits susceptible children and encourages them to pester their parents'
which is arguably irresponsible.
but then, they can also see that some people are interested in 'healthier' options.
posted by asok at 5:23 PM on January 22, 2003


Loads of advertising targets children to get them to pester their parents. I remember as a child seeing a TV ad for Lincoln Logs and annoying my parents endlessly about getting them for me. It's the adult's responsibility to say "no" ... and that's what my parents did (I had to wait until I was 30 before I finally got those Lincoln Logs).
posted by Orb at 5:38 PM on January 22, 2003


Of course this would have a chilling effect on people filing all suits. Those who are poor and could not afford to lose a case would simply never bring one, even one that had merit.

No. Instead, "the poor" - as well as everyone else - pays the costs of those lawsuits through the increased price of virtually everything they buy. General Liability insurance is now a significant expense for any large corporation, most medium size corporations, and even many small businesses. Corporations cannot exist without a lot of insurance, because they assume they're going to be sued for almost everything under the sun ... as there really is no effective downside to lawsuits.

But what insurance does is effectively spread the costs of lawsuits across entire industries. A few doctors in a state (to pick an example recently in the news) may be genuinely bad, or corrupt, make a bunch of mistakes, and be legitimate targets of lawsuits that (as the lawyers claim) "help" the public by providing a necessary check and balance. But the large number of lawsuits against doctors that are now common whenever a cure, or a surgery, doesn't work (whether it has anything at all to do with the doctor) means that malpractice insurance has become high enough to cause doctors in some states to simply move out of their specialties, or stop providing some services altogether.

A few of "the poor" are helped (along with their attorneys) if they hit a lawsuit jackpot, but the rest of "the poor" (along with everyone else) are hurt. The tort lawyers - from the perspective of corporations - are little other than a legalized protection racket. They assume they'll get nailed with all manner of lawsuits from the white-shoed during the course of every year, and pay their insurance companies and legal staffs with the same attitude as any small restaurant owner in New York used to pay his "fire insurance" to the mob in years gone by. And then they factor the costs into the price of products and services (as the restaurant owners also had to do).

Anyone that thinks the tort laweyers are pure hearted folks bravely fighting for the little guy against big mean corporations, or cheers when an individual wins a multi-million dollar lawsuit (1/3 of which goes to the lawyers) ... well, I'd suggest they look at every rent check they (and "the poor") write, every car payment they make, bag of groceries they buy ... hell, every toy they purchase for their kid, and speculate as to how much smaller those checks might be were they not helping to pay those awards.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:26 PM on January 22, 2003


Wow. I will now always ask for legal advice on MeFi.

Who'da thunk?
posted by TheManWhoKnowsMostThings at 8:54 PM on January 22, 2003


A few of "the poor" are helped (along with their attorneys) if they hit a lawsuit jackpot, but the rest of "the poor" (along with everyone else) are hurt

hurt is what happened to lady who spilled coffee and received horrific burns on her legs.

help is what mcdonald's customers, poor or otherwise, received when the corporation lowered the temperature of the coffee they served, so it wasn't a horrific safety risk.
posted by lescour at 9:34 PM on January 22, 2003


It will be interesting to see whether lifestyle marketing tends to increase product liability across many product arenas, even as it has done in the tobacco wars. If lifestyle marketing successfully creates an irresistible, must-join mythos - one which trancends product consideration as the primary motivation for consumption - then product consideration (and any common knowledge which might apply) won't be held as the primary measure of a consumer's self-responsibility.

IOW, if Rasputin makes burgers, and he hypnotizes people into visiting his luncheonette, and those people get fat, they may have legal recourse - even though everyone knows burgers can make you fat.

Rasputin made me do it.

I'm just sayin'...
posted by Opus Dark at 2:10 AM on January 23, 2003


Except midasmulligan, in the real world, it just doesn't work the way you say.

The civil litigation system almost always gets it right. Corporations do not pay "greenmail" to the plaintiff's lawyers, they vigorously defend the cases and win the cases that are frivolous.

Trial lawyers individually and as a group are not stupid. We won't take cases we can't win and you don't stay in this business long if you can't tell a winner from a loser.

The reason that corporate liability insurance has skyrocketed? One word answer: Enron.

Nobody wants to write coverage for the next Enron, or Worldcom, or Tyco Industries. All the ills of American society at the start of this 21st century do not rest at the feet of the trial lawyers.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:54 AM on January 23, 2003


I don't think the lawsuit is necessarily frivolous:

(1) Their product is marketed as an acceptable, even desirable, alternative to real food.

(2) Much of their advertisement has been geared to children, who are less educated about nutritional choices; at the very least, the level and type of advertising they generate sends mixed messages when placed alongside legitimate nutritional education, and children are less prepared to handle this than adults are (or should be). Referring to a product as a 'Happy Meal' hides the fact that it is an unhealthy meal.

"Walt Riker, a spokesman for McDonald's, denied that McDonald's makes children a target of its advertising. 'No one cares more about kids than McDonald's,' he said. Ronald McDonald is a clown who plays with children. He's there to attract either kids or pedophiles.

(3) McDonald's commercials depict restaurants full of non-obese people.

(4) McDonald's web page today insists there are no "good" or "bad" foods. Note that while the site has links to nutritional information, it is mostly this type of PR; in order to get the actual nutritional information, you have to download a .pdf file.

(5) McDonald's resisted posting its nutritional information for a very long time, and now posts it inconspicuously. Given that every McDonald's product is generously wrapped, why not put nutritional information on every wrapper, bringing their food labeling in line with what we see in grocery stores?

I think that McDonald's is very similar to tobacco companies in how they market a product that, used appropriately, is detrimental to one's health. They send messages that are in conflict with prevailing science ('there are no 'bad' foods', there is no evidence that smoking causes lung cancer, 'happy' meal). These businesses make money by confusing the public about the truth that their products are harmful.

They do this in part by offering an addict (more nutritionists are viewing the obese as food addicts, given that the mechanisms are similar to those of drug and alcohol addiction) an excuse not to believe scientific experts. An addict who does not want to quit will seek out and believe any suggestion that their addiction is not harmful. So McDonald's gets to pretend that their food is nutritional (like the tobacco companies pretended that smoking was not harmful, and later that it was not addictive), and then, when faced with liability, they get to blame the public for buying into their message in the first place (because everybody knows smoking is harmful; everybody knows how to balance their diet).
posted by troybob at 8:05 AM on January 23, 2003


No. Instead, "the poor" - as well as everyone else - pays the costs of those lawsuits through the increased price of virtually everything they buy.

This way the cost of litigation is spread out among all in society, which per person so low it's hardly noticeable in most cases. It's a better than imposing high costs on a select few.
posted by Bag Man at 11:21 AM on January 23, 2003


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