Column: Some unique ways of avoiding responsibility for choices

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 12, 2002

&uot;A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.&uot; &045; Don Corleone in Mario Puzo’s &uot;The Godfather,&uot; 1969

Before I wrote this column, I ate a supper consisting of a Quarter Pounder with cheese, fries and a Coke. I won’t mention what fast-food restaurant featuring a clown mascot I bought my meal at.

Anyway, my sodium, fat and cholesterol-laden meal made me think of the guy who is suing the fast-food industry, blaming them for his obesity. Apparently, his diet for the past umpteen years has consisted of meals from McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut.

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Although the food at these restaurants is high in fat content, the restaurants make that information &045; along with other Nutrition Facts &045; available to the customer. Granted, this has not always been the case. Thirty years ago, nobody knew how many calories were in a Big Mac &045; not even Ronald. But for at least the last 10 years, that information has been available at practically every restaurant that is part of a franchise.

One would think that a decade is sufficient time to change one’s eating habits. It’s not like Big Hamburger is pulling a Big Tobacco by adding chemicals to physically and psychologically addict their patrons. For the record, I also disagree with the people suing Big Tobacco for their nicotine addiction, regardless of what chemicals they added to cigarettes. Nobody is forced to smoke.

Likewise, restaurants should not be held accountable for weight gain as a side effect of eating their product. If they are, grocery stores will be next. With the large inventory they carry, they sell exponentially more foods that are high in fat and sodium, all of which are clearly labeled as such.

This is far from the first time someone has tried to sue for something that was not the defendant’s responsibility. In the late 1980s, a group of parents tried to sue the then-heavy metal band, Judas Priest, because their sons committed suicide. They happened to be Judas Priest fans, so the parents tried to blame the band. Never mind that their kids had drug and alcohol problems to begin with. The parents took the time to play a record album backwards, looking for non-existent hidden messages.

It’s funny how they had the time for that when they tried to fabricate a scapegoat, but they apparently didn’t have the time for their kids until they were gone. I am by no means downplaying suicide &045; it is definitely a tragedy. But I believe that it is wrong to blame a musical group for it. I don’t believe any band has that kind of power over their audience. The fans who do blindly follow what they perceive to be messages have problems bigger than can be blamed on the entertainment industry. The author of &uot;Fargo Rock City,&uot; a book I recently read, said that he listened to the same album at a friend’s house and it didn’t even make him want to buy the album.

I’m expecting any day to read about someone suing Hershey, Coca-Cola, Wrigley’s and Cracker Jack because their products caused him to get tooth decay. Or maybe someone will attempt to sue for lost time. One can almost hear in a courtroom, &uot;Your honor, my client watched Anna Nicole Smith’s television program and found it to have no redeeming value whatsoever. He will never have that hour back, and would like $100,000 for his permanent loss of time.&uot;

Perhaps someone will sue Disney for teaching that it’s okay to drink potions and eat psychedelic mushrooms, like in their animated film &uot;Alice in Wonderland,&uot; encouraging them to try LSD.

It’s not just the people with no sense of self-responsibility who are at fault here. A few unprofessional, dollar-chasing lawyers are also to blame. After all, 30 percent of $1 million is a lot of money. As a society, it is our responsibility to stop using taxpayers’ money to help pay for frivolous lawsuits. Maybe if enough of them are thrown out of court, it will put a stop to this waste of time and money.

I just hope nobody sues me for trying to prevent their potential income from lawsuits like these.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Mondays.