In the 1990s, tort claims made up half of all lawsuits filed in the United States. One and a half million are reportedly filed every year. Tort claims are legal actions taken to receive damages for alleged direct injury. Our legal culture demands individuals, corporations and the like act in certain ways and provide compensation if one is injured because they failed to act in the culturally proscribed manner. In this last year, our civil courts have been engaged in a new tort claim. It seems McDonald’s has seduced some folks’ tastes and single-handedly made them harmfully obese.
The plaintiffs making these claims, many of them parents speaking on behalf of their pocketbooks and children, have stated that McDonald’s and other fast food diners never told them that their food was fattening and never provided them with healthy alternative meals. Over time this made them injuriously heavyset. Now, they and their trial lawyers want the fast food giants to make it all better with huge, monetary punitive damages. It probably doesn’t demand rebuttal, but I’ll bite.
Fast food is fattening food. Our nation’s public schools have been instructing students about health concerns for 30 years. We all remember the triangle. Oil, orange-colored mayonnaise and secret sauce found in many fast food meals were not a part of that triangle. Most fast food diners’ kitchens are visible from the purchasing counter. The patrons can see their food being prepared.
Most fast food diners with well-packaged and proportioned meal items have Food and Drug Administration required pamphlets with nutritional facts available on request. Of course they don’t splash them up on the overhead menu. That does not alter the facts’ availability.
Fast food diners provide service evaluations for customers to register their complaints and satisfaction. If customers were seriously and widely dissatisfied, the fast food businesses would soon recognize the untapped potential of fast, healthy food. Frequent customers could have participated in an even more telling evaluation of the fast food giants: They could have ceased providing them business.
I’ve never heard of a situation when McDonald’s prevented a customer from exercising.
As you can see, the tortfeasors, the fast food diners who are accusing, are not without their defenses, but these tort claims are representative of so much more. Our culture has permitted the degeneration of responsibility. We frequently allow people to blame the other guy and get away with it, even become famous by it. We revere self-esteem at the expense of responsibility. America has become an attraction to foreigners because even our poorest citizens are fat.
Our culture has permitted trial attorneys to capitalize on it all. There is little regulation on the filing of lawsuits, little tort reform. We allow a lot of blaming. The accused must always provide his defense against the accuser, amounting in tremendous legal fees. Juries grant damages in the millions. Elevated costs of medicine result from this. Elevated costs of insurance premiums result from this. Arguably, our clogged civil courts result from this.
Why does this demand our attention now? House Resolution 339, nicknamed the “Cheeseburger Bill,” was recently passed by a margin of 276-139. We must await its reception in the Senate. Trial lawyers are a large lobby in Congress, with great representation in the more venerated branch, and huge supporters of the Democratic Party. The legislation would prohibit obese people from making tort claims against fast food franchises for their personal health conditions. Though it is unfortunate that extreme claims have highlighted the issue, this tort reform may signal a turn in the nation’s attitude toward personal responsibility. The costs of healthcare and the possibility of more socialized medicine are affairs of the highest concern in this presidential election season.
Nicholas Romero is a senior philosophy major.