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Food Fight!

How should restaurateurs deal with the weighty problem of customers' obesity?

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This story appears in the July 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Holding restaurants liable for a customer's weight problem may seem like the equivalent of a Chicago baseball fan suing the Cubs for pain and suffering. But despite widespread ridicule, efforts to make fast-food companies responsible for obesity continue unabashed in federal court. Obesity lawsuits may be a glaring example of a tort system gone mad, but no one believed tobacco lawsuits would go anywhere, either. Food-industry critics say grounds for legal action reside in what they consider the industry's excessive lobbying of federal health officials. The pressure, critics say, has resulted in dietary guidelines that lean too much in favor of meat and dairy products.

While a federal judge threw out a lawsuit against McDonald's last January, plaintiff's attorney Samuel Hirsch amended the suit and refiled it within days. Fast-food chains remain Hirsch's chief focus, but industry advocates and legislators are acting to protect all food-service entrepreneurs from future fallout. Remedies in the works in the House and Senate would outlaw making food-service companies liable for consumer health.

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