- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Judge Robert Sweet should be commended for his common-sense ruling Wednesday rebuffing the latest attempt by trial lawyers to soak the fast-food industry. The suit, brought in a New York district court by two teen-age girls and their parents, blamed McDonald's for the girls' obesity-related health problems. In court papers and media appearances, trial lawyer Samuel Hirsch argued that by means of deceptive marketing, his clients were conned into thinking that hamburgers and fries were a healthy diet everyday, and that because of their lifestyles the children had no alternative but to eat at fast-food franchises.
Hogwash, said Judge Sweet. "Nobody is forced to eat at McDonald's," he wrote in his ruling. "Even more pertinent, nobody is forced to supersize their meal or choose less healthy options on the menu."
All this may sound like a resounding victory for common sense, and McDonald's defenders were quick to claim victory. "We said from the beginning that this was a frivolous lawsuit," the company said in a statement. "Anyone with an IQ higher than room temperature understands that the best way to stay healthy is to enjoy a variety of foods in moderation," said Richard Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom.
But the food fight has only begun. "Short of letting us go ahead, it's the best decision which we could have gotten," John Banzhaf, a George Washington University professor and obesity crusader, told the New York Times. "Judge Sweet has provided a road map on how to file this." By road map, we presume Mr. Banzhaf means taking any new road that doesn't lead to Judge Sweet's courtroom.
As things stand, that's a lot of roads. What's more, they're well-traveled ones. The trial lawyers intent on bilking McDonald's and others are many of the same ones who went after tobacco companies in the last decade. As Mr. Banzhaf presciently noted, some 700 lawsuits were filed against the cigarette industry before just one got to trial. Somehow, like the obesity plaintiffs themselves, we suspect there's some judge somewhere who lacks the self-restraint to stop these fat-headed assaults.


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