Friday, February 03, 2006

Idle hands do the devil's work

Especially if they are the hands of lawyers - First smokes, now Cokes:
Get ready for the next mass-tort crusade: protecting our kids from the ravages of Big Cola. According to news reports, a group of lawyers is gearing up to file lawsuits that will seek to blame Coke, Pepsi and others for obesity, tooth decay and other childhood health ailments. An article in the Boston Globe Magazine has called it part of a "national legal movement to make soft drinks the next tobacco." Instead of tar and nicotine, we'll be hearing about corn sweeteners and caffeine; maybe Dr. Pepper can stand in as the new Joe Camel.
If they mess with Mountain Dew or Jolt Cola, there will be a geek revolt.
Ridiculous? More like inevitable. For some time, a noisy campaign has been underway to portray the food and beverage industry as the villain in the nation's ongoing battle with the waistline. Without the snack hucksters' machinations, it seems, we'd all eat raw bell peppers and be reed thin.
Not to mention tofu.
Backed by "progressive" foundations, nutrition advocates are demanding a national obesity policy aimed at changing our collective diet, by force of law if necessary — or quite possibly by force of litigation. As one advocate, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, put it: "If someone is saying that a 64-ounce soda at 7-Eleven contributed to obesity, that person should have his day in court."
I hope Mikey won't take it personally if someone says that having your head up your butt contributes to an inability to see daylight. But enough of the fun stuff, let's get to the bottom line.
That brings us to Northeastern University law professor and associate dean Richard Daynard, point man in the forthcoming courtroom onslaught against fizzy drinks. Long quoted in the media as a cheerleader for tobacco lawsuits, Daynard has now set out to assemble a legal strike force to file obesity actions. He wants to duplicate the success of the tobacco campaign, whose strategies included invoking "the children" and launching scores of suits on novel legal theories in hopes that one would stick.
In the vernacular that's termed "throwing manure at the wall to see what sticks," a practice familiar to practitioners of the legal trade.
Daynard's financial stake in all this is going to deserve reporters' scrutiny too. Back in the heyday of tobacco litigation, news reports portrayed him as an academic well-wisher of the suits, with no mention of his monetary stake in them. After other tort kingpins brokered the $246-billion settlement with the states, however, Daynard claimed that he had an oral agreement with the lawyers that entitled him to 5% of their fee haul — $150 million or more. The attorneys denied making such a promise, and the dispute was later settled.
Who knew that being an annoying git was such a lucrative career?