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Obesity Suit Ban Gets a Veto in Wisconsin

March 18, 2004|From Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. James Doyle vetoed legislation Wednesday that would have barred overweight residents from suing restaurants and food manufacturers for contributing to their obesity.

Few such lawsuits have been filed nationally, none in Wisconsin, Doyle said.

"Here we haven't even had any disputes to be handled, and it's just sort of saying we don't trust the courts to handle cases. I just don't think you need to go around and find solutions where problems don't exist," he said.

The legislation would have granted immunity from obesity lawsuits for restaurants, food manufacturers, marketers, packers, advertisers, distributors or sellers.

In Wisconsin, almost 58% of residents are either overweight or obese. The state's obesity rate nearly doubled in the decade ending in 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of March 1, only Louisiana had a law in effect banning such lawsuits, but at least 19 states were considering similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The sponsor of the Wisconsin legislation, Republican state Rep. Dan Vrakas, planned to ask legislative leaders to schedule a veto override vote later this year. He said just the threat of lawsuits could be enough to drive up business costs for restaurants.

"I think the governor is siding with people that feel we can blame others for decisions and choices that we make," said Vrakas, whose family owned a restaurant for more than 40 years. "I'm choosing to side with people that feel decisions on how and what we eat are their own personal responsibility."

The veto comes amid a national debate over obesity and Americans' eating habits.

Sara Stinski, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Restaurant Assn., said it's only a matter of time before someone sues a restaurant for making them fat.

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