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Jewish World Review July 30, 2002 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5762

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

Fat is as fat does | Humorist Art Buchwald once observed that it was becoming more difficult to write satire because truth was funnier.

That's how I feel about news that a 56-year-old New York man is suing four leading fast food chains for contributing to his obesity, several heart attacks and other health problems.

Caesar Barber claims through his New York lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, that fast food creates a de facto addiction, or "craving," among those who eat it. Hirsch says fast food eateries should list ingredients on their menus. "There is a direct deception when someone omits telling people food digested is detrimental to their health," he commented.

The restaurant chains which are the objects of Barber's suit -- McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken -- have provided nutritional information, including calorie and fat content for their meals, since 1990 when Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. In addition to calorie-packed fare, all four chains also serve salads and other non-fattening food -- all available to Barber.

Clearly, trial lawyers are out of control. What's next, ice cream? Will some driver sue the manufacturer of his car because the auto is capable of breaking the speed limit and because of this he got a ticket? He could claim addiction to speed.

Isn't anyone responsible for anything anymore? Apparently not. We're all victims now and anything bad that happens to us ("bad," being a relative term with shifting meanings and escalating damage awards) is someone else's fault. If I stuff my face with Big Macs or Wendy's triple-deckers five days a week and get fat or have a heart attack, why should the fast food chains be held liable? They didn't force-feed me. That Barber's case wasn't immediately tossed out of court proves we have too many fathead lawyers and judges who treat the law as a game.

Many people will recall the 1994 case of a woman who sued McDonald's for serving her coffee she said was dangerously hot. While holding a cup of coffee between her thighs after buying it at a drive-through window, the coffee spilled, causing third-degree burns. Why wasn't the woman responsible enough to use a cup holder?

About that lawsuit, then-Rep. Ron Packard (R-Calif.) said, "Our courts have become a lucrative feeding ground for unscrupulous lawyers and greedy plaintiffs who abuse the system. Litigation is spinning out of control when a woman can file a suit over spilt coffee and walk away millions richer."

Researching outrageous lawsuits, I hit a mother lode of examples. An Ohio prison inmate once sued the state because he was denied soap-on-a-rope. Another inmate from Ohio was served a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, then sued the state on religious grounds, saying the stuffing had turkey bits in it and eating meat violated his religion.

An Ohio man sued NBC's "The Tonight Show" in 1999 after claiming he'd been struck in the face by one of the souvenir T-shirts the audience warm-up man "shoots" into the audience using a cannon-like device. I've been in the "Tonight Show" audience and the shirts have a velocity that literally could not hurt a fly. The plaintiff wanted $25,000, claiming pain and suffering, disability, lost wages, emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reported in 1997 about a local man who was asked by the city of Brooklyn Park to cut down a diseased tree on his property. The man put a ladder on top of his van and began cutting down the tree. When he fell and injured his head, the man sued the city, which spent $4,000 defending itself before the case was thrown out of court.

More of these cases should be thrown out. "According to the President's Council on Competitiveness, it is estimated that Americans spend in excess of $300 billion a year in litigation," the business journal noted. "The United States has 30 times more lawsuits per person than Japan." When the legal system is abused, it adds to the cost of business and goods for all of us.

Better judges would help. Maybe that's why President Bush has been stymied trying to get his nominees for the bench past a stonewalling Senate Judiciary Committee made up almost entirely of lawyers. Maybe it's why Democrats, whose party receives most of the political contributions made by trial lawyers, are opposing the president so strenuously on his judicial selections.

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JWR contributor Cal Thomas is the author of, among others, The Wit and Wisdom of Cal Thomas Comment by clicking here.

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