Don't sue me, Santa!

Posted: Dec 22, 2005 12:05 AM

In our lawsuit-happy society, it seems you can’t trust anyone these days. A wonderful cardiologist I know spent years keeping a heart patient alive, only to be sued by the man’s family when the patient inevitably succumbed. Those who choose a not-so-well-balanced diet of Big Macs and fries over Subway are now able to sue the company that gave them so many moments of delicious ecstasy. So, as you generously distribute holiday goodies this week, it wouldn’t hurt to protect yourself from the Grinches on your gift list.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition supported by many in the food industry, doesn’t want to see you get sued for your well-meaning efforts. Sick of lawsuits tied to obesity, the Center is distributing a tongue-in-cheek document this season called the “Christmas Cookie Liability and Indemnification Agreement.”

Aimed specifically at Santa, this humorous liability waiver (available in triplicate for added protection) pokes fun at trial lawyers who want to steal the joy out of eating. The Center recommends that you have Santa sign the form before he consumes the milk and cookies you leave next to the tree.

“Saint Nick has been obese for centuries,” notes Center for Consumer Freedom senior analyst Dan Mindus. “Still, you never can be sure where the next frivolous lawsuit will come from. Insisting that Santa sign a waiver before he chows down may be the only way to protect against being hauled into court by a greedy legal Grinch.”

Santa’s signature on the waiver indicates that he won’t sue you for many of the reasons that restaurants and goodie-makers are now being sued, including:

• Your failure to provide nutritional info for your cookies
• Your failure to offer healthier cookie alternatives
• Your failure to warn that Christmas lights and other holiday decorations “may constitute manipulative marketing to lure Santa into over-consumption”
• Your failure to notify Santa that eating too many cookies may lead to greater obesity.

It’s no fun counting calories around the holidays, but many of us have to do it anyway or risk seeing the numbers creep up on our scales and pant sizes. Those who decide the calories are fun enough to take the risk can always join Weight Watchers in January. Unfortunately, too many Americans don’t like either option – and are willing to sue to prevent having to take responsibility for their actions. What a life – gorging on holiday treats and then getting paid millions for the effort!

As John Stossel noted in a recent column about fast food lawsuits, “Why is a big corporation responsible for its decisions but an individual not responsible for his? Because lawyers can make big money by pretending not to see the obvious.”

So far, no jury has found a restaurant liable for the eating choices of its customers. But, as Stossel notes, it’s only a matter of time.  After all, “trial lawyers lost 700 lawsuits before they started winning against the cigarette makers.” And since huge legal settlements and costs get passed down to us as taxpayers and consumers, you and I will lose money because someone chose to sue instead of diet. In the meantime, we are also losing food choices like Super-Size meals as restaurants shrink from the wrath of trial lawyers.

Thankfully, there are some in America who are willing to stand up to ridiculous lawsuits. This fall, the House of Representatives passed a bill to protect the food industry from greedy trial lawyers.  In addition, the Center for Consumer Freedom has fought this battle in the media for many years.  One CCF television ad shows a Girl Scout being prosecuted because her cookies looked and tasted too good to resist. Another features the Seinfeld soup nazi. Thanks in part to the Center’s attention-grabbing ad campaigns, most Americans are still resisting arrest by the food police.

It’s no time to be lazy though. Morgan Spurlock won awards and fame when he ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days and turned it into a documentary, Super Size Me. As Spurlock gained 24.5 pounds and saw a 65-point increase in his cholesterol, he expected viewers to rage against the fast-food industry. (I guess he thinks his audience is as stupid as he must be to eat nothing but processed food for a month. I’d rather watch a documentary on what kind of Americans would choose that diet in the first place.) 

A documentary later released by filmmaker Soso Whaley received less attention, but its results are notable. Whaley mimicked Spurlock’s diet for two months – and lost 18 pounds.  In “Mickey D’s and Me,” Whaley limited herself to 1800-2000 calories a day, while Spurlock had allowed himself 5000 – more than twice the recommended number for an average man.

In light of Spurlock’s fame, a culture that is increasingly hostile toward both corporations and personal responsibility, and trial lawyers tempting obese Americans with big-number lawsuits, responsible Americans have a battle before them. That’s why partners with the Center for Consumer Freedom in its efforts against frivolous lawsuits – no matter which Grinch (or Santa) is behind them.