Ailing Man Sues Fast-Food Firms

Want a class-action lawsuit with that burger?

A New York City lawyer has filed suit against the four big fast-food corporations, saying their fatty foods are responsible for his client’s obesity and related health problems.

Samuel Hirsch filed his lawsuit Wednesday at a New York state court in the Bronx, alleging that McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC Corporation are irresponsible and deceptive in the posting of their nutritional information, that they need to offer healthier options on their menus, and that they create a de facto addiction in their consumers, particularly the poor and children.

"You don't need nicotine or an illegal drug to create an addiction, you're creating a craving," Hirsch said. "I think we'll find that the fast-food industry has not been totally up front with the consumers."

The suit does not specify the amount of damages Hirsch and his client are seeking.

Industry officials lambasted the legal action.

"It's senseless, baseless and ridiculous," National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Katharine Kim said. "There are choices in restaurants and people can make these choices, and there's a little personal responsibility as well."

KFC spokeswoman Amy Sherwood said her company couldn't comment on the lawsuit because it hadn't yet been served, but dismissed the idea that the fried-chicken chain ought to be held responsible for anyone's health problems.

"Eating sensibly combined with exercise is the best solution for a healthy lifestyle," she said. "KFC offers a variety of menu offerings for those who want a more healthy choice."

Walter Olson, a Manhattan Institute fellow specializing in legal-system issues, called the suit a blatant attempt to cash in on the recent publicity over obesity and the tobacco settlements. He also said it disregarded the idea that people are responsible for their own actions.

"Most people are aware if eating double cheeseburgers, it's not the same as celery," he said. "We all have appetites, but people have no trouble walking down the street and buying a different kind of food. They’re not somehow forced to keep going back and keep supersizing. Overeating is a bad habit and is one of the pitfalls of human nature."

So far, there's only a single complainant named in the suit, but Hirsch said at least two other clients would be filing soon in what he aims to make into a class-action lawsuit. All were regular fast-food consumers who suffer from ailments ranging from obesity to diabetes.

The lead plaintiff, 56-year-old maintenance supervisor Caesar Barber, ate at fast-food restaurants four or five times a week and blames his fatty diet for his obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol and the two heart attacks he has suffered.

"I trace it all back to the high fat, grease and salt, all back to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King – there was no fast food I didn't eat, and I ate it more often than not because I was single, it was quick and I’m not a very good cook," Barber said in an interview with

"It was a necessity, and I think it was killing me, my doctor said it was killing me, and I don't want to die."

Frances Winn, a 57-year-old retired nurse, said her habit of eating at fast-food restaurants at least twice a week since 1975, caused her to go from a size 6 to a size 18, and inflicted her with hypertension, high cholesterol and a hyperthyroid problem.

Israel Bradley, 59, said his ritual of eating a pound of french fries a week gave him high blood pressure, diabetes, made him obese and forces him to walk with a cane. In 1993, he passed out and had to be rushed to the emergency room because of the medical problems caused by his diet.

"I got addicted to it," he said.

Winn and Bradley would both file New York state suits soon, Hirsch said.

The aim of the legal action is to force the fast-food industry to "offer a larger variety to the consumers, including non-meat vegetarian, less grams of fat, and a reduction of size" of their meals, along with federal legislation that would require warning labels on fast food similar to those on tobacco products, Hirsch said.

"Hopefully it will change the eating habits of the American public," he said.

In December, then Surgeon General David Satcher declared obesity America's soon-to-be number one killer, and urged for there to be a healthier range of food available to consumers.