NEW YORK – A lawyer for McDonald's Corp. argued Wednesday that consumers know that hamburgers and French fries are fattening and urged a federal judge to throw out a suit blaming the company for obesity and diabetes in children.
His arguments were made at the first federal court hearing in the controversial case aimed at holding McDonald's responsible for children's health and weight problems. Although other suits have been filed over the issue, lawyers said this is the only one that is actively being litigated.
U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet said he would decide later whether to dismiss the suit.
"The plaintiffs' lawsuit asks the court to abandon common knowledge, common sense," said Bradley Lerman, a lawyer representing McDonald's.
He said that the law does not require that restaurants warn customers of the "universally understood" fact that common foods contain fat, salt, sugar, cholesterol and other basic ingredients. Lerman said that reasonable people know what products are in hamburgers and fries and what excessive eating of those products does to one's waistline over a prolonged period.
"People don't wake up one day thin then wake up the next day and are obese," he said.
The suit, argued Lerman, does not allege that McDonald's products are defective or contaminated but instead tries to hold the company responsible for telling people something that is commonly understood. He said that McDonald's has never billed their Big Macs or fried foods as being as low in calories as a "spinach salad."
"With most meals eaten at home, and about 900,000 dining options available to American consumers every day, McDonald's is no more responsible for an individual's overall diet and lifestyle choices than any other food destination, whether it's your own kitchen, local restaurant or grocery store," the company said in a statement.
However Samuel Hirsch, the lawyer who filed the suit, alleged that McDonald's has deliberately tried to mislead the public into thinking Big Macs and other products are nutritious. He said that while the chain might post nutritional information in its restaurants the information is often difficult to understand and placed in hard to read locations.
"It's a serious lawsuit with serious issues," he said. "They have deliberately withheld information."
The suit is one of four cases filed against McDonald's and other fast food chains over the obesity issue. However two cases have been dismissed and another is dormant.
The current action, which seeks unspecified damages, was brought on behalf of overweight children who consumed foods at two McDonald's located in the Bronx. One of the plaintiffs is a 14-year-old girl who is 4 foot 10 inches tall and weighs 170 pounds.
It seeks class action status to represent other children throughout New York State.
The plaintiffs allege that the McDonald's restaurants violated New York State's consumer fraud statutes by failing to adequately disclose the ingredients in some of the foods and the possible health effects caused by eating them.