RERUN–No Steak for You!

Originally posted at Photon Courier 5/29/2003

(This doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetched today, with Nanny Bloomberg running rampant, as it did in 2003)

Several months ago, a Federal court threw out a lawsuit in which McDonald’s was charged with contributing to obesity. But don’t think this is the end of the story. Lawyers are salivating about the potential damages which could be extracted from the restaurant industry. Approaches are being fine-tuned, and new lawsuits are being filed.

Most of these lawyers claim that what they want is for restaurants to do a better job of disclosing ingredients and associated risks. But does anyone really think it would end there? Suppose some of these suits prevail, and the McDonald’s menu board is loaded up with nutritional information. The next wave of suits will allege that the type size is too small…or, if the type size is large, that the data is too summarized and not detailed enough. And if a restaurant puts data in their menu that is both detailed and in a large type font, they will be sued for overloading their customers with more information than they can possibly comprehend.

In such a litigious environment, of course, restaurant companies will move to protect themselves as best they can. What form might this self-protection take? Let’s skip ahead a few years…you’ve gone to a favorite restaurant to enjoy a steak.

WAITPERSON: Welcome to Snarfer’s Steakhouse. I’m Stacy, and I’ll be taking care of you today. Could I scan your smartcard now? (Swipes the card). Now, what would you like to have?

YOU: I’ll have the sirloin steak and a baked potato..and a salad to start, please.

STACY: Well, let’s see (types on her handheld)…Gee, I’m sorry, sir, but your cholesterol intake over the last month has been kind of high…how about the roast chicken instead?

YOU: I really was in the mood for steak…say, I’ve lost about ten pounds lately. Doesn’t that count for anything?

STACY: It might…if you could just step over to the scale. (You walk over to the scale and insert your smartcard. Stacy checks her handheld again.)

STACY: I’m really sorry, sir…maybe if you’re really good for another week…but for tonight, you need to think about the chicken or one of our vegetarian entrees.

Seem improbable? Yes. But many of the outcomes of today’s litigation boom seemed highly improbable before they happened.

One point that’s often missed is that harm done by tort law excesses isn’t limited to economic damage. The fear of lawsuits erodes personal freedom in dozens of ways. It’s an erosion for which many civil libertarians fail to show much concern…due in part, probably, to their own preference for lawsuits as a vehicle for social change.

I don’t mean to suggest that there are never cases in which a restaurant should be held liable for health effects of menu items. For example: if a restaurant used a cooking process which it knew to be highly carcinogenic, and withheld the relevant information from customers, liability would be justified. But that’s something very different from attempting to collect damages for every overweight person in America.

10 thoughts on “RERUN–No Steak for You!”

  1. I never eat steak in a restaurant anyway. I cook steak just fine. I got to restaurants for fish, and once in a while for a ceremonial occasion where I i=usually order fish anyway.

  2. “they will be sued for overloading their customers with more information than they can possibly comprehend.”

    Even in the Litigious States of America you cannot sue someone for giving you too much information.

    A good list of ingredients and a fact sheet, the nutritional information, is a useful tool for controlling your diet and is in no way too much information.

  3. “Even in the Litigious States of America you cannot sue someone for giving you too much information.”

    Really? If you had a manufacturer of control systems and displays for chemical plants…and one of the plants blew up…and the display had been so cluttered with information that it was virtually impossible for an operator to identify the problems that were actually occurring…you are 100% certain that a claim of negligence against the manufacturer would not succeed?

  4. That is just bad design of the information interface. Having built web interfaces for server farms I can tell you it’s not a matter of too much information, it’s how it’s arranged. You might have a suit if it could be shown the interface was so broken it hid essential data.

    That has little to do with the amount of information there is available to the system.

  5. There’s an old routine by a comic whose name I forget, but he remarks that in a bar, someone obviously intoxicated is cut off by the bartender. Then he asks the question about whether that could be done to fat people in restaurants. “Pardon me sir, but don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

  6. My reading of History on Rome doesn’t leave me with the popular misconception they were decadent when the Barbarian’s took them. They were exhausted. They were overwhelmed by incredible odds and it took centuries – I am referring to the Western Empire.

    Mind you much the same happened to the Eastern Empire.

    Whatever overtakes us – hopefully and probably it will be us – it will be said of our now reigning Merovingian Interregnum that it was indeed decadent, frivolous, and ignored enormous problems to pursue trifles.

  7. And if I were to design such a conflict in America to be as costly, horrifying and prolonged as say the 30 Years War was for Germany, I should certainly follow the modern trend of American conflict and bring in Lawyers at every point.

    Where they are now, by the way.

    PenGun try and enjoy your faction’s Triumph a bit more. Because for you, this is as good as it gets, and it will never be this good for you again.

  8. His encouragement always seems to bring with it the heavy hand of government, as in breast feeding. I’m a big fan and suspect it encourages other appropriate healthful behavior, but still seems intrusive. (I guess I should merely be thankful they aren’t banning bottles. Yet.)

  9. “I guess I should merely be thankful they aren’t banning bottles. Yet.”

    Sounds like they’re coming pretty close, in the hospital setting, requiring formula to be signed out by a Registered Nurse as if it were some controlled medication.

    In addition to the civil liberties issue: Politicians who support these edicts never seem to consider the effect on front-line workers and the consequent loss in effective performance of the organization. RNs in a hospital are a critical resource, and every second they spend filling out some form for formula-authorization is a second they’re *not* spending actually caring for patients.

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