Legal battleground: Girth of a nation; Lawsuits take on big food amid debate about personal responsibility, social costs

Hartford Courant
Sunday, July 13, 2003

Fatty foods, and the role they play in causing obesity, have become the latest object in the perennial tug of war between class-action lawsuits and personal responsibility. Trial lawyers and consumer groups, generally aligned with liberal Democrats, have long advocated using the courts to remedy virtually every social ill and bad personal habit. The "tort-reform movement," heavily supported by big business groups and conservative Republicans, is hurriedly sponsoring legislation to curb class-action suits and restore the balance toward personal responsibility.

Joanne Doroshow is executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, a New York consumer group that promotes citizens' legal rights. She says that although suits had been filed for years concerning the fatal blowouts of Firestone tires on Ford Explorers, it wasn't until a report by a Houston television station in 2000 that the public learned of the problem and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration became involved.

"A lot of people forget what the real impact of the asbestos and tobacco suits were, which was that we finally learned just how dangerous these products were," Doroshow said. "That's the dirty little secret behind tort reform and why corporations fight these lawsuits. They really don't want all this information coming out about their products. The clear advantage of a free court system is that we can force discovery of information that is useful to the public."
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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