A coalition of lawyers who have sued tobacco companies says it is close to filing a class-action lawsuit against soft-drink makers for selling sugared sodas in schools.
Leading the litigation effort is Richard A. Daynard, an associate dean at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, who is also president of the Tobacco Control Resource Center and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, both of which have provided legal support to attorneys suing tobacco companies. Joining Daynard is Stephen A. Sheller, a Philadelphia lawyer who came up with the legal theory that tobacco firms deceived consumers into thinking their low-tar and -nicotine cigarettes were safer to smoke than regular cigarettes. Also involved in the prospective lawsuit is the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that has aggressively pressed for more explicit food labels and less fat and sodium in all kinds of food.
Note that these are not the meat-and-potatoes trial lawyers who typically represent individuals and families who have suffered a grievous injury. They are public health crusaders who try to find a client to fit a theory, and use the courts to change public policy and large-scale corporate behavior. Referring to them as “trial lawyers” or “personal injury lawyers” would be misleading, but I am sure the tort reform zealots will do just that.
I have serious reservations about this kind of food and beverage class action litigation. And not just because I went to law school at a univeristy (Emory) that was built on Coca Cola money. Some of my concerns are:
* Unless they can prove the sinister use of toxic or physically addictive additives in food and beverage products, they appear to be complaining about things that are obvious common sense characteristics. We have all known since childhood that too much sugary soda and too much fatty food is likely to make you fat and rot your teeth. We choose to indulge anyway. Just today I decided to skip the low-fat, low-calorie salad at lunch, and indulge in a double hamburger with fries and a full-sugar, non-diet soft drink. I knew exactly what I was doing, but hey, I ran a marathon in October and a half-marathon in November, and I’ll run it off tomorrow.
* A massive class action that strikes the average citizen as silly and overreaching will only feed the climate of “tort deform” by which corporate America seeks to strip rights and redress from average citizens. It will enter the litany of “frivolous lawsuits” along with the real but misrepresented (McDonalds hot coffee case) and the merely mythical (guy holding up lawn mower to use as hedge trimmer). It will hurt the system upon which people with real and serious injuries depend.
The change of behavior these crusaders seek — to stop sales of sugary soft drinks to children at school — is probably good. I am sure they mean well. But I think their use of tort law for this purpose will hurt more than it helps.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).