The McLawsuit is back yet again. A federal appeals court has reinstated the case nearly a year and a half after a federal judge dismissed (for a second time) the class action complaint, which claims that McDonalds is responsible for the weight, girth and health of two named teenagers and countless other similarly situated persons.
In a six-page opinion, three federal judges decided Tuesday that, at least so far as the overweight teens misleading advertising claims were concerned, their allegations more than m[et] the requirements for the case to continue. Thats because, according to these judges, the teens dont have to prove they actually relied on any allegedly deceptive promotions to win their case. In fact, according to the decision, the plaintiffs didnt even need to show a causal connection between their consumption of McDonalds food and their alleged injuries in order to keep the lawsuit going.
Instead, the three judges asserted that the teenaged plaintiffs need only prove that McDonalds advertising was objectively misleading or deceptive and that they suffered injury as a result. But what injury did the teenagers suffer? And why?
According to their complaint, the teens suffered injury because their consumption of McDonalds food significantly and substantially increased the development of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol intake, and/or other detrimental and adverse health effects and/or diseases. The complaint also claims that the teens ate at McDonalds often because the company promoted the quality of its food. In other words, according to the teenaged plaintiffs, the McLawsuit hinges on whether McDonalds caused their excessive weight and poor health by inducing them to eat fast food through allegedly misleading advertising. Thus, if McDonalds is legally to blame, logically it must be because the teenaged plaintiffs relied on those commercial messages to their detriment.
Seen this way, the three judges arent just having it their way, theyre having it both ways. On one page their decision asserts the teenagers dont have to prove actual reliance on McDonalds advertising in order to win the case, but on another the same opinion clearly explains that the teenagers must prove not only that the promotions were objectively misleading or deceptive but also that the teens suffered their weight- and health-related problems as a result.
It used to be that a plaintiff had to prove the defendant caused their injury in order to collect. Unfortunately, the McLawsuit has become just one more example of the rejection of this approach and a sign post marking just how far our tort system has wandered from the age-old requirement of proving fault. According to Tuesdays decision, the case against McDonalds lives on because the teenaged plaintiffs alleged they didnt know exactly what ingredients, how many calories and how much cholesterol was in each Value Meal and because McDonalds didnt warn them. Never mind the far more pertinent and obvious fact that everyone including the teenaged plaintiffs knows or, at the very least, should have known: Eating a Big Mac a day will not keep the doctor away.
Indeed, Tuesdays decision though not the first is perhaps the most celebrated legal ruling thus far exposing the vast expansion of Americas no-fault liability regime. On its face, the McLawsuit is a perfect example of a no-fault tort case. The teenagers claim they arent to blame for their excessive size and poor health because they couldnt count every last calorie in their burgers and fries. And McDonalds logically cant be at fault because no one forced the teenagers to overeat there.
as more and more companies are learning, in America, someone has
to pay, and in the no-fault world where causation is no longer
a factor, its usually the one with the deepest pockets,
whether actually to blame or not.
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