Judge Dismisses Obesity Lawsuit Against McDonald’s Alleging Responsibility for Obesity
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet in New York yesterday dismissed a lawsuit against McDonald's that alleged the fast food chain deceived customers with its advertisements and that its food caused diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in its customers, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sweet said the plaintiffs made no attempt to "isolate the particular effect of McDonald's foods" on the plaintiffs' health (Leung, Wall Street Journal, 9/5). He added that the plaintiffs "made no explicit allegations that they witnessed any particular deceptive advertisements" (Glovin, Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5). Attorney Samuel Hirsh last November filed the lawsuit, which sought class-action status, on behalf of two New York City teenage girls who allegedly have experienced health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension, as a result of McDonald's products (California Healthline, 6/26). In January, Sweet dismissed that version of the lawsuit, ruling that the law cannot protect consumers from their own excesses and rejecting claims that fast food is addictive like tobacco. However, Sweet allowed the plaintiffs to amend and refile the lawsuit and recommended ways to show that McDonald's deceives customers (Wall Street Journal, 9/5). Sweet said that the plaintiffs could argue that "diners have no idea what is really in their food or that the products have become more harmful because of processing," the Chicago Tribune reports. Hirsch initially refiled the lawsuit with such allegations but dropped them in June to focus on deceptive advertising claims (Alexander, Chicago Tribune, 9/5). In yesterday's ruling, Sweet said, "[T]his court laid out in some detail the elements that a properly pleaded complaint would need to contain. Despite this guidance, plaintiffs have failed to allege a cause of action for violations of New York's consumer-protection laws with response to McDonald's advertisements and other publicity." Sweet also denied the plaintiffs the chance to amend the complaint again (Wall Street Journal, 9/5).
McDonald's officials said the ruling was a "total victory." They added, "As we have said, our ads are truthful, accurate and fair ... McDonald's food can fit into a healthy, well-balanced diet based upon the choice and variety available on our menu" (Ramirez, Long Island Newsday, 9/4). George Washington University Law School professor John Banzhaf, who is leading the legal charge in filing obesity lawsuits after recent successes against the tobacco industry, said, "It took us 30 years to get a smoking case to court and over 700 dismissals," adding that he expects more lawsuits questioning whether fatty foods are addictive and whether food companies have misrepresented or failed to disclose risks (Chicago Tribune, 9/5). MPR's "Marketplace" yesterday reported on the dismissal of the McDonald's case. The segment includes comments from Banzhaf and Lawyers' Weekly Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Paul Martinek (Palmer, "Marketplace," MPR, 9/4). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.