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House panel fed up with weight-blaming lawsuits

By Martiga Lohn

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Lawmakers on a House panel unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that would prevent overweight people from suing restaurants, food companies and farmers for their health problems.

Saying the court system is "as clogged as cholesterol-filled arteries," Rep. Dean Urdahl, a Republican from Grove City, said his bill would prevent frivolous lawsuits by people seeking damages for their weight problems. He said he expects the legislation to pass the full House.

Fourteen states have already enacted similar "cheeseburger bills." In a nod to Minnesota's agricultural background, Urdahl's proposal shields food growers and producers as well as restaurants, food processors, packers, distributors and marketers.

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The only opposition came from the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association, whose president, Katherine Flom, said the legislation would give food businesses wide-ranging immunity from consumer complaints. "Do you want Burger King to be your king?" she asked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that almost two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Obesity raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.

Minnesota has yet to see lawsuits seeking damages from food sellers for obesity and related health problems. Urdahl said he expects such suits to come unless his bill is passed. The legislation isn't intended to prevent consumers from suing food makers for fraud if products are labeled incorrectly, he said.

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