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Fast food won't lead to fat cats
Bill would ban legal action versus restaurants that fatten up diners

Date published: 12/30/2004

RICHMOND--A fondness for fast-food fries and double bacon cheeseburgers will make you fat--but it won't make you rich.

At least, not if state legislators approve a bill that would prevent people from suing restaurants because fatty food made them, well, fat.

Del. Bill Janis, R-Goochland, has filed a bill for the 2005 legislative session that he's calling the "Virginia Litigation Reduction and Consumer Personal Responsibility Act."

That's a long title for a bill that basically says, if you eat at McDonald's, for example, and you gain weight, you can't sue McDonald's for your weight gain or any health problems associated with it.

"People talk about tort reform all the time. This is true litigation reform because it looks at a category of what I believe are frivolous lawsuits and precludes them summarily," Janis said.

He had a bill in the 2004 session that had a similar aim, although that measure was written differently. It tried to define the kinds of foods that cause health problems, like hydrogenated oils and sugars, and ran into opposition from some food-industry groups who were concerned about the bill's language.

This time around, Janis is taking a different tack; the new bill uses Food and Drug Administration language for food products that have an "open and obvious hazard." The language is similar to that of legislation which passed Congress earlier this year but did not make it out of the U.S. Senate.

If the bill survives the General Assembly session, Virginia will be joining a growing number of states seeking to prevent lawsuits against restaurants for serving fattening or otherwise unhealthy food.

According to the National Restaurant Association, in 2004, legislation was adopted in 13 states to ban "frivolous" obesity lawsuits.

A list of "talking points" on the association's Web site says restaurant owners "need to protect our industry from abusive, frivolous lawsuits and prevent the food industry from being held responsible for the complex issue of obesity. It is unfortunate, but necessary, to have legislation enacted that will help deter unscrupulous attorneys from filing abusive, frivolous lawsuits that only enrich the trial bar at the expense of the hardworking restaurant operators and their employees."

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