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The apparent trend toward “obesity lawsuits” -- in which plaintiffs complain that they are fat because they ate too much fast food and that it is the fast food restaurant’s fault -- hit a major roadblock yesterday when US District Judge Robert Sweet dismissed just such a suit against McDonald’s.

The action had been filed on behalf of several teenagers, including a 14-year-old girl who is four-feet, ten-inches tall and weighs 170 pounds. The judge said there was no evidence that customers were unaware of the health implications of eating too many Big Macs, fries and shakes.

``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.''

Judge Sweet left open the possibility that the case could be refilled in federal court if the plaintiffs are able to identify health risks associated with fast food that are not being publicized.

There have been at least four obesity suits filed against fast food restaurants in recent months. Two have been dropped and one is dormant, according to a report from Reuters. Had any been successful, the judge noted, there would have probably been thousands of copycat suits filed, and that the court had a responsibility to “limit the legal consequences of wrongs to a controllable degree and to protect against crushing exposure to liability.”
KC's View:
It is hard to be sure, but we suspect that there will be new suits filed in other courts against McDonald’s and other fast food chains. The pot of money that could be available to plaintiffs and their lawyers is just too deep for them to ignore.

Clearly, personal responsibility is more relevant here than litigation and blame. But that seems to be counter-intuitive for a lot of people these days.

This ruling doesn’t mean that fast food restaurants and any other company that serves or sells food is off the hook. We think this should be a wake-up call, warning them that consumers deserve to have better tasting, more nutritious, less fatty food.

Three final points.

1. How about the irony of the judge in this case being named “Sweet”?

2. Has anyone thought about suing the parents over custody rights? These teenagers clearly could use better adult role models.

3. We’d have given anything to have been near the teenaged plaintiffs when they heard about the judge’s ruling. Because we’d be willing to wager serious money that they didn’t go to a salad bar to console themselves.

One more thing…check out the following story, which suggests that “personal responsibility” isn’t just an abstract concept.