Filed Under: Trial Lawyers

Looking For Lawsuits In All The Wrong Places

“To paraphrase Andy Warhol, in the future everyone will be the target of an obesity lawsuit for fifteen minutes … at least.” That’s according to Obesity Policy Report, discussing last weekend’s second annual Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conference of food cops and trial lawyers. During the confab, Center for Science in the Public Interest litigation director Steve Gardner (yes, the nutrition nags with an enemies list a mile long have a litigation director) gave a presentation titled: “Patience, hell. Let’s sue somebody.” That phrase, Obesity Policy Report notes, “accurately captured the mood of the audience.”

It wouldn’t have been a conference on obesity lawsuits without John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf. At last weekend’s gathering, he claimed credit for starting the movement while talking to a reporter in 2002. “We’re doing well and we’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “When lawyers see how lucrative these are they will all join on.”

In addition to the usual old-hat defendants — restaurants and large food companies — Banzhaf offered suggestions for several other targets. In true ambulance-chasing fashion, he insisted: “Let’s sue some doctors.” He also urged lawsuits against parents of obese children, saying “go after parents with TVs in their [kids’] rooms.”

A special issue of the Journal of Public Health Policy (edited by PHAI chairman Anthony Robbins, with an introduction by disgraced PHAI board member Ben Kelley) offered some equally outlandish claims. Richard “Even Trial Lawyers Call Me Greedy” Daynard complained about “addictive high calorie sodas.” Addictive soda?!

In an accompanying article, Philip James, Neville Rigby, and Shiriki Kumanyika argued for “health impact assessments on trade arrangements” and to use “powers so far reserved largely for acute food safety issues to restrict trade” on foods that nutrition scolds don’t approve of. Predictably, the trio also argued: “This ‘personal responsibility’ approach … has clearly failed.”

For all their scheming, PHAI conspirators still face an overwhelming problem: the public flat-out disapproves of obesity lawsuits. According to a recent report from Deloitte consulting:

Consumers are strongly against obesity lawsuits being allowed against food chains. Using a scale of 1 through 10, a hefty 74% chose “1,” indicating that they strongly disagreed that these suits should be allowed. The results suggest that Americans very much agree with Congress’ recent efforts to prohibit these kinds of law suits against the food industry.

In fact, the number of people opposed to obesity lawsuits is 92 percent. Here’s the breakdown:

1: 74.1% — (Strongly disagree)

2: 5.5%
3: 6.4%
4: 2.6%
5: 3.4%
6: 2.4%
7: 1.9%
8: 1.2%
9: 0.7%
10: 1.8% — (Strongly agree)

No word yet on whether that 1.8 percent who strongly agree consisted entirely of the Banzhaf and Daynard households.

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