New York, Jan. 22 (Reuters): In a major victory for the fast food industry, a federal judge today dismissed a widely watched suit in which McDonald’s hamburgers and French fries were blamed for children’s obesity.
US district judge Robert Sweet said the plaintiffs, including a 14-year-old girl who is 4-foot-10 and 170 pounds, failed to show McDonald’s Corp. products presented a danger unknown to consumers. He also cited concerns the case could “spawn thousands of similar ‘McLawsuits’” against all types of restaurants.
“This opinion is guided by the principle that legal consequences should not attach to the consumption of hamburgers and other fast food fare unless consumers are unaware of the dangers of eating such food,” Sweet said. “If consumers know... the potential ill health effect of eating at McDonald’s, they cannot blame McDonald's if they, nonetheless, choose to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald's products.”
Although the judge threw out the suit in it's entirety, he ruled the plaintiffs could refile claims in Manhattan federal court within certain limits.
Sweet also said McDonald's had rightfully pointed out that the case was the first of its kind to reach this stage in federal court and could result in thousands of copycat cases.
The suit was brought on behalf of overweight children who ate at two McDonald's restaurants in the Bronx borough of New York City. The plaintiffs sought unspecified damages, blaming McDonald's for health problems that included diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.
The suit was one of at least four cases filed against McDonald's and other fast food chains over the obesity issue. At least two cases have been dropped and another is dormant.
The judge noted that Americans spend more than $110 billion on fast food each year, and cited studies showing that on any given day in the US, almost one in four adults visits a fast-food restaurant.
“The potential for lawsuits is even greater given the numbers of persons who eat food prepared at other restaurants,” Sweet said, citing reports that show almost half of the American food dollar is spent on food eaten away from home.