Good news for those who don’t like our legal system to be abused. In January, one of the most ludicrous lawsuits of all time was dismissed by a federal judge who rejected claims by parents and their children that claimed the children had developed high blood pressure and diabetes, and had become fat due to the fact that they were frequent eaters of fast food at McDonald’s. The judge making the decision is Judge Robert Sweet, and he filed a 65 page opinion stating what I would think should be obvious, that those who eat at McDonald’s should know that eating too many Chicken McNuggets and too many Big Macs can cause health problems. Judge Sweet quite logically concludes, “It’s their own fault if consumers nonetheless choose to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald’s products.” The Judge went on to indicate that McDonald’s does not exactly hide the fact that its food is high in fat content, and not exactly wonderful for one’s cholesterol level. Judge Sweet said, “It is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses,” describing people who eat at McDonald’s more than they should.
Judge Sweet further indicated that there are relatively healthy items that can be ordered at McDonald’s, and that “nobody is forced to supersize their meal or choose less healthy options . . .”
The parents in this case are Roberta Pelman and Israel Bradley. Their attorney is named Samuel Hirsch, who has filed similar lawsuits before. The claims by Pelman and Bradley included the fact that McDonald’s had supposedly failed to warn their customers that the consumption of food at McDonald’s could lead to health problems, and girth problems, as well.
In his 65 pages of logic Judge Sweet has dismissed this waste of time lawsuit, although he did allow Mr. Hirsch thirty days to amend his complaint. His ruling indicated that the only way the Pelman-Bradley team could prevail is if they could prove at trial that the alleged dangers regarding products from McDonald’s were not well known. Well, of course they’re well known, and if Mr. Hirsch does refile, I look forward to Judge Sweet tossing out the amended lawsuit.
Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Why are people so often attempting to blame others for their own behavior? Maybe it feels temporarily better to try to blame someone else, but the key to acting as a grown-up is to take responsibility for one’s actions.
The word frivolous doesn’t even begin to describe this lawsuit. It accomplishes many things, none of which the plaintiffs wished to accomplish.
For openers, it gives lawyers a bad name, at least those lawyers willing to take cases such as this and file lawsuits as ludicrous as this one.
It also gives people a bad name, at least those people who are unable or unwilling to take personal responsibility.
It gives the justice system a bad name. The mere fact that this case has been in and out of the news for the last several months is enough to cause people to wonder what our court system is all about. When police officers arrest people for what are generally referred to as victimless crimes, it is often asked, “Don’t the officers have something better to do? There are real criminals out there.” Similarly, when people read about cases like this wandering through our system, the thought often is, “Aren’t there serious cases which should be in our system, not this garbage.”
The British use a system in which, if one files a personal injury case and loses, that side is often ordered to pay costs and attorneys’ fees for the other side. I am not in favor of this; however, if a lawsuit is deemed to be frivolous, i.e., a total waste of time, something that should not have been in our system to begin with, then at that time, I would like judges to have the ability to, within their discretion, order that the losing side pay fees and costs. Perhaps with this added deterrent, cases like this would not get filed and lawyers would at least consider the merits of a case before filing the case. Do you think it really comes as a surprise to people that a life of Big Macs does not exactly promote health benefits? Should people really be stuffing themselves and then suing? I think not.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Unger & Grover, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues. He can be reached at charlieunger @hotmail.com