I like fast
food. It tastes good, it's cheap, and it's, well, fast. That's
why McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC and Taco Bell are so
popular. People aren't endlessly stupid, so companies serving
nearly 100 million people every day must be serving their customers
eating too much fast food can make you fat. Some lawyers say people
don't know that, so they're suing restaurants like McDonald's.
Activist lawyer John Banzhaf told me, "What we're trying
to do is the same thing against the problem of obesity that we
did so successfully against the problem of smoking."
speaks with the voice of experience. The professor at George Washington
University was in the forefront of lawsuits against cigarette
manufacturers. "People used to say that those suits were
frivolous," he noted. "Well, today we call those lawyers
The "problem" was that people had made their own decisions
and gotten stuck with the consequences. Why was personal responsibility
Big Food has fought off the lawsuits. But it's a matter of time
before some jury somewhere says fat is McDonald's' fault. In a
documentary that promoted the "dangers" of fast food,
Morgan Spurlock ate all of his meals at McDonald's for 30 days,
saying "yes" whenever "Super size" fries were
offered. "Super Size Me" was a hit. It won awards from
the Sundance Film Festival and the Writers Guild.
As a result
of his experiment, Spurlock says, he had trouble breathing, became
hot and felt like he was having heart palpitations. He gained
24.5 pounds, and his cholesterol shot up 65 points. Not good.
was that McDonald's' fault? The same thing would happen if he
ate that much at an elegant French restaurant. We don't blame
GM because cars lead us to avoid exercise, or ABC because TV invites
us to be couch potatoes.
think it would be obvious that people are responsible for what
they decide to do. And indeed, the law must hold at least some
people responsible for their decisions -- otherwise, how can fast-food
or tobacco companies be blamed for selling their products? Why
is a big corporation responsible for its decisions but an individual
not responsible for his? Because lawyers can make big money by
pretending not to see the obvious.
may have bad ideas that most people reject, but because people
don't have a choice about getting sued, the lawyers almost always
win. Not at first -- but eventually. They just keep suing until
they do; they lost 700 lawsuits before they started winning against
the cigarette makers. Banzhaf told me the food business is "the
the House passed a bill that would protect the food industry from
obesity lawsuits. Makers of vaccines, guns and small planes already
have special protections. But that kind of partial solution is
a bad idea. It prevents one injustice by enacting another: It
would give the fast-food industry an exception to the laws that
govern other businesses with less political clout. We should all
be equal under the law.
system should be reformed so people bear the consequences of their
own bad choices. The best solution would be to make people who
file baseless lawsuits pay the costs of defending against them.
"Loser pays," that system is called, and that's the
way it works in most of the civilized world. America's tort lawyers
cleverly call loser-pays the "the English Rule," as
if it's an odd British idea. It's not. It's the "Rest-of-the-World
Rule." Only America suffers under the bizarre "American
Rule," which allows lawyers to sue again and again, while
forcing others to pay. Loser-pays would bring some justice to