Thursday, September 4, 2003

Fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp. yesterday won dismissal of a lawsuit by eight New York children claiming the restaurant chain used deceptive advertising to conceal health risks.

U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet rejected the second case brought by New York attorney Samuel Hirsch, saying, “Plaintiffs have not made any attempt to isolate the particular effect of McDonald’s foods on their obesity and other injuries.”

The New York teenagers said that McDonald’s hid the fat and cholesterol content of its Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets and other products in 1987 U.S. advertisements and brochures circulated in Britain.

But McDonald’s said there was no evidence the plaintiffs, one of whom was born in 1988, saw the ads, which the company defended as being accurate.

“We trusted that common sense would prevail in this case, and it did. Today’s dismissal is further recognition that the courtroom is not the appropriate forum to address this important issue,” the company said in statement yesterday.

The case was the second time the New York teenagers had brought claims before Judge Sweet. Mr. Hirsch filed the first lawsuit in January, accusing McDonald’s of contributing to the children’s obesity and related health problems.

Judge Sweet threw out the lawsuit but allowed another suit to be filed in February, which focused on the false-advertising accusations.

At the time, he said there might be a case if McDonald’s products had been “so altered that their unhealthy attributes are not outside the ken of the average reasonable consumer.”

In his ruling yesterday, Judge Sweet did not invite Mr. Hirsch to file another suit.

McDonald’s shares closed at $23.39 yesterday, up 3 percent from $22.69 on Wednesday.

But activists in these obesity-related lawsuits say their movement will not stop with the ruling.

“We’re not discouraged by one setback this early in the game. It took more than 700 lawsuits and 30 years to bring down Big Tobacco,” said George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf III.

“We’re still moving in a good direction,” said Mr. Banzhaf, the leader of a group of lawyers targeting food companies, ice-cream shops, and even schools for contributing to the obesity epidemic.

But Mike Burita, spokesman for a D.C. food lobbyist group, said similar cases will not hold any ground in the courtrooms.

“I think all indicators show that common sense prevailed, and Judge Sweet’s rulings reflect public opinion,” said Mr. Burita, who is with the Center for Consumer Freedom.

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