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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S 1428

Location: Washington, DC



    S. 1428. A bill to prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against food manufacturers, marketers, distributors, advertisers, sellers, and trade associations for damages or injunctive relief for claims of injury resulting from a person's weight gain, obesity, or any health condition related to weight gain or obesity; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

    Mr. MCCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about abusive litigation in America. Unfortunately, a personal injury lawyer's desire for a big payday by any theory imaginable is never satisfied, and so I come yet again to speak about tort reform—an issue I have worked on nearly every year that I have been in the Senate.

    America is blessed with an abundant food supply and an overwhelming number of food choices. With so many choices, some of us overdo it. That over indulgence, combined with an under indulgence of exercise can sometimes have negative health consequences. But most of us take responsibility for the amount—and the type—of food we put in our mouth, and we accept the consequences of those decisions.

    Personal injury lawyers, however, are now trying to convince Americans with expanding waistlines that someone else is to blame for their weight problem. And so the latest targets of predatory lawyers are the people producing and selling food. That is right. This money-hungry gang is going after "Big Food." If it were not so frightening, it would be funny.

    This is a disturbing turn of events and a further indication of the erosion of personal responsibility in America. People claiming their weight gain is the fault of the food manufacturers or seller have already begun filing lawsuits. Think of the absurdity of that logic. How long will it be until those who get speeding tickets begin to sue car manufacturers for building a car that people may decide to drive too fast?

    Many Americans need to take greater care in what—and how much—they eat. But it is also time to curb the voracious appetite of the personal injury lawyers and put an end to this ridiculous and costly litigation before it gets out of hand

    That is why today I am introducing the Commonsense Consumption Act.

    My bill would prohibit suits against food manufacturers and sellers for claims of injury resulting from a person's weight gain, obesity or health condition related to weight gain or obesity.

    Any such suit pending on the date of enactment of this bill would be dismissed.

    Let me be clear. This bill does not provide widespread legal immunity for the food industry. It only provides protection from abusive suits by people seeking to blame someone else for their poor eating habits.

    This bill would not affect lawsuits against food manufacturers or sellers that knowingly and willfully violate a Federal or State statute applicable to the manufacture and sale of food.

    This bill would not apply to lawsuits for breach of contract or express warranty. And this bill would not apply to claims related to "adulterated" food.

    I should mention that Representative Ric Keller has introduced similar legislation in the House. His bill, entitled the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act has received a hearing and has attracted a significant number of cosponsors. My bill is worded a bit differently than Representative Keller's but I believe it is safe to say that both bills aim for the same result: an end to these absurd lawsuits.

    Just a few years ago, the whole idea of blaming, and suing, someone else for your own eating habits was comical.

    In fact, in August of 2000 the satirical publication "The Onion" carried a spoof news story entitled "Hershey's Ordered To Pay Obese Americans $135 Billion."

    The story began: In one of the largest product-liability rulings in U.S. history, the Hershey Foods Corp. was ordered by a Pennsylvania jury to pay $135 billion in restitution to 900,000 obese Americans who for years consumed the company's fattening snack foods.

    The article continued by saying: [The five-state class-action suit accused Hershey's of "knowingly and willfully marketing rich, fatty candy bars containing chocolate and other ingredients of negligible nutritional value." The company was also charged with . . . artificially "spiking" Their products with such substances as peanuts, crisped rice, and caramel to increase consumer appeal.

    That story was humorous in August of 2000. It is not funny any longer. Personal injury lawyers are now attempting to turn that satirical story into reality.

    We have seen press reports that just a few weeks ago a group of more than a hundred money-hungry lawyers and activists met in Boston to plan strategy for suing food manufacturers and sellers.

    As I mentioned, some of these personal injury lawyers have already started suing. We have seen suits against restaurants, suits against cookie makers, and there are more to come.

    One lawyer has reportedly sent letters to restaurants telling them to meet his demands or he will sue. This same trial lawyer ring-leader has also threatened to sue local school districts and even individual members of the school board. Have these lawyers no shame?

    But perhaps these lawyers have finally bitten off more than they can chew. When they sue come big corporation, most people probably do not pay much attention. But when you start dragging the local school board members into court and forcing them to spend thousands and thousand of tax dollars defending against frivolous claims, well as we say in Kentucky that is a horse of a different color.

    When Americans hear what these lawyers are up to I do not think they are going to like it. I know the voters in Kentucky are not interested in seeing more abusive lawsuits about obesity, and they certainly are not interested in paying more at the cash register in order to finance some personal injury lawyers' extravagant lifestyle.

    These lawsuits are expensive to defend and the lawyers know that. The lawyers are not really interested in consumers, they are looking for a settlement, a big settlement, that will make them rich and enable them to clog the courts with more frivolous cases.

    Make no mistake about it. These lawsuits seek only to fatten personal injury lawyers' wallets. And that will result in higher food prices for consumers.

    It is time to stop this abuse now and it is time to remind people that personal responsibility is the issue here. People must take responsibility for their actions.

    As one weight loss guru said on CNN earlier this year when he was asked about obesity suits against restaurants:

    There is always going to be greasy, fried, salty, sugary food. It is up to the individual to walk in and say, I don't want those fries today. I have 40 pounds to lose. It is not the fault of the fast food people, and anyone who's trying to sue the fast food places needs a therapist, not an attorney. You have to make your own decisions. That's what the freedom in America is all about.

    Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be quoting Richard Simmons on the Senate floor, but he has perfectly summed it up pretty well, as I just described.

    Making your own decisions is what freedom is all about. And with freedom comes responsibility. We have the freest society on the planet, but folks need to start exercising some responsibility with their freedom. Do not blame others for your bad habits. You are responsible for what you put in your mouth, and parents are responsible for what their children put in their mouth. It is that simple. The plaintiff's bar may not like that fact, but it is truly that simple.

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