Pickering: Bills push personal responsibility

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed twomeasures backers say will take a bite out of frivolouslawsuits.

One piece of legislation – referred to as the “cheeseburgerbill” – would prevent lawsuits against restaurants for obesitydamages. The other measure would shield lawful gun manufacturersand sellers from lawsuits based on the actions of criminals whoused a legally acquired weapon.

“Negligent or criminal actions should receive criminal and civilpenalties, but serving a Big Mac or selling a gun for duck huntingshould not be grounds for a frivolous lawsuit,” Third District U.S.Rep. Chip Pickering said. “These measures guard against lawsuitabuse and hold individuals responsible for their own actions.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (HR554)prevents lawsuits in federal or state courts against a food companydue to weight gain, obesity or weight-related health conditions.Plaintiffs could still sue if a restaurant “knowingly andwillfully” violates a law regarding food.

Trina Haynes, store manager for the Brookhaven Burger King, saidshe would support the law because people know when they visitfast-food restaurants some items are not as healthy as some otheroptions.

“You’re not forced to do or eat anything,” she said. “It’s yourchoice. And if it’s a choice to come here, why should wesuffer?”

Haynes also agreed that the law should still allow plaintiffs tosue in more serious instances, such as food-safety violations.

The bill would also address future instances of widelycriticized cases from the past, such as that of a woman severalyears ago who won a lawsuit after spilling hot coffee on herselfwhile leaving a McDonald’s drive-through window, Pickeringsaid.

“The bill highlights how ridiculous some trial lawyers havebecome,” Pickering said.

The manager of the Brookhaven McDonald’s referred calls forcomment to the store owner, who was unable for comment.

The bill would not have any effect on cases currently pending inthe courts.

“I think, though, that if we show strong congressional supportto show that these type of lawsuits are a matter of personalresponsibility and not litigation that it may have some effect,”Pickering said.

The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration, wherepassage is still a matter of debate.

“It’s too early to tell,” Pickering said. “It could pass in theSenate, but lawsuit reform there has been difficult to get passedin the past.”

One measure the Senate did agree with the House on, however, wasthe Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (SB397), whichprevents lawsuits in federal or state courts against legalmanufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers of firearms.

The bill does not provide protection to those who knowingly sellor transfer firearms to be used in a crime or in cases when adefect causes physical injury, death or property damage.

The measure now moves to President Bush, who has promised tosign it into law, said Brian Perry, Pickering’s director ofcommunications.

“It was a great victory for those who believe in the right tobear arms,” Pickering said. “This will stop those who are trying towin in the courts when they could not win in the Legislature.”

The firearm lawsuits are usually filed by anti-gun activists inan attempt to bankrupt gun sellers with settlements and legal fees,Pickering said, and the bill provides protection to manufacturersand legal retailers from harassment.

All pending civil actions would be dismissed should thepresident sign the bill.