Utah Legislators Ban Lawsuits for Obesity

Utah Legislators Ban Lawsuits for Obesity

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- People couldn't sue food makers or restaurants for making them fat under a bill approved by Utah legislators.

The House of Representatives voted 78-17 on Wednesday to give final legislative approval to the measure.

The Legislature's own attorneys, however, warn the "Commonsense Consumption Act" could be struck down as unconstitutional "because it would prevent an injured person from open access to the courts."

Most obesity claims are dismissed in court anyway. Last year, a federal judge in New York dismissed two class-action lawsuits blaming McDonald's for making people fat.

"This is a pretty harmless bill. I don't think the republic is going to come to an end whether we pass it or don't pass it. Even the trial lawyers support it. No trial lawyer would take a case like this. Because a jury would laugh," said Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake City, a former state district judge.

The Legislature could strike every form of frivolous suit, "or we could rely on jurors to have a little common sense," said Daniels, who said he voted against the act "because frankly, with all due respect, I think it's kind of dumb."

But so is overeating, said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who carried the bill in the House for Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

"All it says is that if you eat until you're a beast, it's your own fault and not McDonald's," said Hutchings, who said other states were banning food-consumption lawsuits.

"I think most people know the difference between a salad and a cheesecake," he said.

Restaurants aren't mentioned in Senate Bill 214, but sponsors say they're covered anyway by broad language protecting food manufacturers, packers, distributors, carriers, holders, sellers, marketers and advertisers.

The bill grants them immunity from civil suits over "obesity or weight gain resulting from the consumption of food."

The note attached by legislative attorneys say the Utah Constitution affords "every person with open access to the courts" for injury.

"If a court determined that a person's health condition could be attributed to the long-term consumption of food served by a commercial establishment, and that the person's health condition was an 'injury' then this legislation might violate the Utah Supreme Court's interpretation of Article I, Section 11, because it would prevent an injured person from open access to the courts," the note says.

Fast-food chain McDonald's said Tuesday it is removing the extra-large portions that had become one of its signatures. The burger giant said it has begun phasing out Supersize fries and drinks in its more than 13,000 U.S. restaurants and will stop selling them altogether by year's end, except in promotions.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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