Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Personal Responsibility

Tort reform is an issue that usually makes people's eyes glaze over. In fact, I'll bet that a healthy percentage of average readers wouldn't make it to the end of my first sentence! But I saw an article today that infuriated me.

Here are the details in a nutshell, from the AFP news service:

"The appellate panel in New York on Tuesday reversed a lower court decision that dismissed the suit claiming McDonald's used deceptive advertising to trick consumers into eating unhealthy food.

"The suit is on behalf of two New York teen-agers (sic) who said they ate at McDonald's three to five times a week for years (emphasis mine), and blame the company for obesity, diabetes, coronary disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other ailments."

If ever there were a frivolous lawsuit, this is it. Then again, McDonald's lost a "frivolous" lawsuit when a woman spilled her own coffee onto her lap.

For every right there is a responsibility. The plaintiffs have a right to sue, but they have a concurrent responsibility to exercise that right reasonably. They have failed.

Their obesity and related health problems are McDonald's fault? I'm sure that when they were not eating 3-5 meals a week at McDonald's they were eating tofu and wheat grass. The restaurant's advertisements are misleading? Except maybe for their salads, McD's advertises taste and "style" rather than health. There's a reason it's called junk food.

Whose fault is it these teenagers are fat? Their own. And while I'm at it, let's look at some parental responsibility. Why were your kids eating fast food 3-5 times a week? What were you doing as your kids got larger and larger, to the point of developing health problems? What the heck were you thinking?

Can you imagine the lawsuit if a McDonald's manager refused to serve the kids because of their weight? What exactly is McDonald's supposed to do in this situation? Suit if they do, suit if they don't. It's lose-lose.

There are two societal problems here. The first is too many people in our society do not accept responsibility for themselves--someone else is always at fault. The second is our litigiousness, especially if the sued has deep pockets; sometimes we call this "greed". Neither speaks well for our society. Juries that grant awards in such cases only reinforce these problems.

If McDonald's did in fact fail to follow the law and provide the necessary health information about its products, it should be sanctioned. See, McDonald's has a responsibility to obey the law. Even if such negligence is proven, I cannot see it responsible for the health problems of two fat kids. That link is just too tenuous.

When the President speaks of tort reform, the party of the trial lawyers gets all atwitter--imagine if they couldn't make millions off such suits anymore. This case is a poster child for the need for tort reform, as well as a mirror for some of what is wrong in our country.


Sherwould said...

Actually, you may be surprised to learn that a lot of us don't "roll our eyes" when we hear the term "tort reform". There are a surprising numer of us who believe that our legal system - particularly the tort side - has become an unbearable burden that is destroying any vestiage of our long held belief in personal responsibility. Further, it is stifling product improvements, promoting wasteful activities, and costing our citiznery unbelievable amounts in both direct and indirect costs.

I'd say that the trial lawyers are one of the very few professional groups that do more damage to our nation than the teachers unions. And while the teacher's unions can threaten to mobilize millions of members to demonstrate their political clout, the attorneys don't need that many. They've got the majority of Congress already in their ranks!

Darren said...

I agree completely!

Anonymous said...

Indeed juries get it wrong sometimes. But to have faith in the jury system is to have faith in the principals of democracy: that common people can make informed decisions of enormous consequence. Each of us has felt at some point that the electorate got it wrong, but we don't then campaign to reform democracy.
--washington irving

Anonymous said...

The McDonald's coffee lawsuit was in no way frivilous. Go here for the facts, and for further links:


Darren said...

Thank you for the link to the McDonald's coffee information. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information provided but I'll grant for the moment that all of it is correct.

Let's look at it from a personal responsibility standpoint. Should the woman be mixing sugar/creamer into hot coffee in a car?

McDonald's has a drive-thru window because the purchasing public wants one, but where does their responsibility stop and the car occupant's begin after someone buys something from the drive-thru?

Did she not know the coffee was hot?

What exactly was the coffee sitting on? Obviously it wasn't in a cupholder.

My point here is that the plaintiff certainly has plenty of responsibility in this matter.

To me it doesn't matter if McDonald's had ultra-hot coffee in order to make more money. That's not illegal. Where McDonald's does seem to have a *responsibility* here is to try to minimize damage that it knows can occur with its products. As you've pointed out, the judge found them negligent in this regard. I was not aware that they had previous information about burns, and I thank you for bringing that information to my attention.