House Panel Weighs Obesity Lawsuits

The same trial lawyers who brought the well-known tobacco lawsuits have a new target in mind: the fast-food industry.

But Congress is stepping into the fray, having debated Thursday the merits of a bill that would make fast-food restaurants immune to such litigation.

"Most people have common sense to realize if they eat an unlimited amount of supersized fries, cheeseburgers, chocolate shakes and sundaes, it may lead to obesity. In a nation like the U.S., where freedom of choice is cherished, nobody is forced to supersize their fast-food meals," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., lead sponsor of the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (search).

Led by law professor John Banzhaf, attorneys are claiming that Burger King (search), Kentucky Fried Chicken (search), Taco Bell (search) and others are responsible for much of the obesity in the United States.

Banzhaff has unsuccessfully litigated obesity lawsuits already, and he said he is outraged that Congress is trying to step in and protect fast food. One suit against McDonald's (search), dismissed by a New York judge, has been re-filed in amended form.

"Some members, not content to shrink Congress' responsibility to do something meaningful about America's second most preventable health problem, now support an industry-sponsored bailout and protection bill to end what seems to be one of the few effective tools against the problem," Banzhaf told a House Judiciary subcommittee. "With all due respect, shame on you. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, especially until Congress is prepared to step in and adopt comprehensive legislation and save taxpayers some $50 billion annually in obesity costs."

Legions of lawyers are ready to bring lawsuits on this issue. Later this month, the "Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic" conference is being held in Boston in which attorneys will plot strategy.

But while litigation is on the rise in the United States, most people on the street who were questioned told Fox News that they are aware that they are responsible for their own indulgences.

"A piece of chicken might have some fat in it? I know there is. I'm going on my diet next week," said one observer in an unscientific survey.

"If you can't figure out that fast food's bad for you, then you're an idiot," said another. 

Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.