ST. PAUL – Speaking from the type of small business he wants to protect, State Representative Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, today announced legislation to stop frivolous obesity lawsuits in Minnesota before they start.
Rep. Urdahl’s legislation would protect restaurants and food manufacturers from lawsuits alleging their food product caused a person to gain weight or suffer an obesity related health condition. While such lawsuits have not yet been seen in Minnesota, Rep. Urdahl said the state must send the signal to attorneys who would take on these frivolous lawsuits that they are not welcome here.
“This law encourages personal responsibility,” Rep. Urdahl said. “When this kind of lawsuit succeeds, the ultimate victim is the small business owner who gets forced out of business by having to pay for someone else’s poor decision making.” Because the profit margin on the average restaurant is so small, having to pay damage awards or higher insurance premiums could force an owner to close his or her business, Urdahl added.
Urdahl warned that only one successful lawsuit would trigger a chain reaction starting on the farm or field where a food is produced and ending in the pocketbook of Minnesotans who dine out. Manufacturers and restaurants would pass the insurance and damage award costs down to customers by way of higher prices, which would only lower demand and in the end hurt the family farmer who earns a living producing the food we eat.
Fourteen states already have frivolous obesity lawsuit protection and 19 more are considering bills similar to that proposed by Rep. Urdahl. While the another bill is being considered at the federal level, Rep. Urdahl urged Minnesota lawmakers to pass the bill first in case the federal government doesn’t get the job done, as was the case in 2004.
“We shouldn’t be waiting on the federal government to act. There’s no harm in having this bill in place just in case it stalls at the federal level,” Rep. Urdahl said.
The bill, House File 118 will be heard before the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee Tuesday, February 15, at 2:30 p.m. in the basement hearing room of the State Office Building.