cheeseburger

Suits do not suit House suits

Doing the people's business?

There seems to be only one thing that would suit the suits who sit in Congress, and that's if no business could ever be sued by anybody for anything. On Wednesday (19-Oct), the House passed, 306-120, a bill banning lawsuits against fast food companies by people blaming them for their obesity. The bill is popularly referred to as the "cheeseburger bill" and passed the House last year as well, but was never acted on by the Senate.

The bill says that this is justified because "the food and beverage industries are a significant part of our national economy" and it is essential to foster "a culture of personal responsibility" to create "a healthier society." (H.R. 554). Oh, if it were only so easy! As if one could legislate attitude!

And then there's this sleight of hand: the bill claims that its purpose is "to allow Congress and regulatory agencies to determine appropriate laws, rules, and regulations to address the problems of weight gain, obesity, and health conditions associated with weight gain or obesity." As if lawsuits by fat people prevented them from doing this in the first place! This is the most specious kind of cover for granting favors to a big and powerful industry.

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A stroll down almost any sidewalk in the United States provides ample evidence that obesity is a widespread problem among our citizens. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know this has something to do with what and how much people eat. It's also pretty clear that the food industry has contributed mightily to this. Snacks and fast food are, for the most part, fat-laden to start with, and supersized portions merely exacerbate the problem. Whether it's fast food restaurants, fine dining, or all-you-can-eat buffets, the concept of "portion" has grown all out of proportion. Just compare a nutritionist's 3-ounce serving of steak, about the size of a deck of playing cards, with the 16- or 24-ounce slab of dead animal flesh that is served up at your local steakhouse. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, once in a while!)

The solution to the obesity epidemic lies in better understanding of nutrition and the body's food needs, and — yes — self-control. With the exception of some people who have a genuine metabolic problem, if you over-stuff your face, you will grow fat!

The answer is not to ban lawsuits by people who have become fat. People who believe they have been wronged ought to be able to sue for redress. That's the fundamental concept underlying our laws. If some fatty is foolish enough to listen to an unscrupulous lawyer who tells them they can make a pile of money by suing a company with deep pockets, they certainly should be able to take them to court. They shouldn't win, but they shouldn't be barred from the courthouse.

When I say they should not win, I'm agreeing that many people need to take more responsibility for their own outcomes. The idea that life should be risk-free and consequence-free is not realistic nor is it psychologically healthy. When people have been careless, irresponsible, or foolish, they should suffer the natural consequences. If such cases do get into court, it should be before Judge Judy, who knows how to sort people out. But at the same time and by the same logic, companies that knowingly make defective and dangerous products (for example, cigarettes that cause cancer) need to be held accountable and suffer the consequences in court and in the marketplace.

Congress has been beating a drum about "frivolous lawsuits" for some time now, and the cheeseburger bill is just the latest incarnation. Shortly after passing the cheeseburger bill, the House also passed a bill barring lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

To hear the politicians talk, you'd think there were an overwhelming number of multi-bazillion dollar awards to people who should have known better. Yes, there have been some highly publicized awards, but they are very few in number, and they are certainly not breaking the economy.

It's not really about curbing frivolous lawsuits. It's really about doing favors for powerful interests who can contribute a lot of money to win re-election.