I’ll Have a Cheeseburger With Fries – Hold the Lawsuit
Because most of the nation is focused on recent union issues in the Badger State, many people might overlook the fact that the Gopher State is also engaged in a healthy debate. State lawmakers in Minnesota are discussing a proposal to prevent people from suing food companies — including fast-food chains — for making them fat. According to an Associated Press article:
The bill would prevent consumers from suing the food industry for weight gain, obesity and health problems caused by long-term consumption of fattening foods and non-alcoholic drinks such as soda.
In general, I believe that the less government does, the better. However, encouraging tort reform is not inconsistent with a free-market philosophy (we discuss the issue often on Show-Me Daily), and interpreting this policy as simply another government restriction is an oversimplification. Reducing frivolous lawsuits will have positive consequences for companies and their consumers.
One possible benefit of this policy is that it will encourage people to take ownership over their own health, encouraging personal responsibility and limiting government dependence — things that Free Marketeers like me support (e.g., health savings accounts, limiting the welfare state, etc). Americans tend to blame their weight problems on everyone except themselves, but this policy would limit their ability to blame food companies. As I always say, personal responsibility is the best medicine. As one state legislator puts it:
“Let’s say I choose to eat 100 bananas and my stomach ruptures,” said Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, a Glencoe Republican. “That’s not the banana growers’ fault.”
It’s also possible that more businesses will locate to the state because they will no longer fear a barrage of frivolous lawsuits. Frivolous lawsuits increase the cost of doing business in the state, which discourages companies from locating there.
Additionally, perhaps this policy would result in lower food costs, much like medical malpractice reform leads to lower health costs. In the health care industry, medical providers practice defensive medicine; I wonder if an equivalent practice exists in the fast food industry?
Lawmakers in Missouri would be wise to watch how Minnesota fares under this policy, if and when it is enacted. As long as the measure doesn’t restrict consumers from suing food companies when they incur actual harm (e.g., health code violations), it will likely benefit the state.