Houston Bill Cuts Eatery Exposure

Houston bill cuts eatery exposure

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen

Eat too many bacon cheeseburgers and you won’t be able to blame
fast-food joints for that heart attack under legislation introduced
this week by Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore.
The "Commonsense Consumption Act," like more than a dozen laws proposed
or passed in recent weeks across the country, would limit individuals’
ability to sue restaurants for health problems associated with obesity.
It also would protect food manufacturers, advertisers, packers, sellers
and distributors.
Assembly Bill 173 mirrors so-called "cheeseburger bills" that have been
proposed in numerous other states at the urging of the National
Restaurant Association. Lawmakers in Arkansas, Wyoming and Minnesota
all introduced similar bills last month. The U.S. House of
Representatives approved the idea last year, but the Senate did not
follow suit, and no similar federal law is likely.
"It’s up to parents and kids and adults to exert some personal
responsibility for what you put in your mouth," said Houston, who
received $6,000 in campaign contributions last year from the California
Restaurant Association. "Reasonable disputes can be handled in the
courts but a witch-hunt isn’t fair to anybody."
So far, there have been only a handful of the kind of suits AB 173 aims
to prevent, including a famous New York case where two teenagers sued
McDonald’s for allegedly hiding the health risks of McNuggets. A judge
recently revived a portion of that case.
Both the state and national associations wholeheartedly support the
idea of reduced legal liability for restaurants in the obesity debate,
said California spokeswoman Jordan Rasmussen.
But consumer and health advocates argue that obesity is more than a
personal decision: It’s a public health crisis, and this bill
represents another door slammed in the nation’s halls of justice.
"This bill is another example of the ongoing attack on the rights of consumers to have their day in court," said Richard Holober, director of the Consumer Federation of California. "If this passes, the boardrooms of America will have less and less concern about the impacts of their decisions."
One in three Americans is considered obese, a condition that
contributes to diabetes, high blood pressure and joint and heart
Restaurant owners and food manufacturers fear they will become the next
target of tobacco-style class-action lawsuits in a backlash against
America’s obesity epidemic.
The Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition of restaurants,
food companies and consumers, writes on its Web site: "A cabal of
fat-cat trial lawyers are poised to launch an onslaught of frivolous
lawsuits to cash in on the debate over America’s weight. From
restaurants and food producers to doctors, schools and even parents, no
target is too big or small for these sharks who see dollar signs where
the rest of us see dinner."
Other recent diet-related suits against McDonald’s and other food
companies have dealt with a company’s claims about specific
ingredients, not a company’s responsibility for consumers’ obesity in
The debate is not limited to the United States. A South Korean court
last year dismissed a lawsuit from a man seeking damages because years
of drinking Coca-Cola had caused nearly all his teeth to decay.
A hearing on Houston’s bill in the Assembly Judiciary Committee has been set for March 15 in the Capitol.
Associated Press contributed to this story. Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers
politics. Reach her at 925-945-4773 or lvorderbrueggen@cctimes.com