By Holly West
This week North Carolina became one of only two states in the nation to enact an “anti-Bloomberg” law, despite attempts in dozens of others to get similar legislation passed.
Thursday afternoon, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law the The Commonsense Consumption Act, which includes a provision that prohibits local governments from placing a cap on the size of soft drinks offered for sale. It is similar to legislation introduced in other states in response to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempted ban on large sodas.
Thus far, only Mississippi and North Carolina have enacted “Anti-Bloomberg” laws.
North Carolina’s version of the bill also protects the food industry from being sued for obesity-related claims. This portion of the bill says food manufacturers, advertisers, sellers and others in the industry cannot be held liable in civil suits involving weight gain or obesity or any health problems that come from being overweight.
Many who oppose the bill say they’ve never heard of such a lawsuit being filed in North Carolina.
Katie Spears, team leader for the Real Food and Active Living program at Youth Empowered Solutions, said this bill is unnecessary.
“We think it’s smarter to leave matters of business to local communities,” she said.
Whitney Christensen, lobbyist for the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said while there haven’t been any obesity lawsuits in this state, it has happened in others.
“In the mid-2000s, it was a huge litigation trend nationwide,” she said. “It was scary for restaurant owners.”
People who have opposed the bill argue that frivolous lawsuits are already covered under the state’s contributory negligence statute, which makes it impossible for an individual to sue for damages if they contributed in any way to the injury for which they are suing.
Christensen said contributory negligence is a successful defense tactic, but that the new law would prevent these kinds of cases from being heard in court at all, and would potentially save restaurant owners a lot of money.
One of Christensen’s colleagues estimated that a client could rack up $30,000 in court costs before a lawyer could even bring up the contributory negligence law in a trial.
“The defendant has already spent tens of thousands of dollars,” she said. “And then you’re hoping that a jury of your peers will even hold that up.”
Almost 40 other states have passed bills to protect businesses from obesity-related lawsuits.
Christensen said restaurant owners worried that people hoping to win these kinds of lawsuits would be drawn to unrestricted states like North Carolina.
“We kind of felt we would become a target state if we didn’t pass something to address it,” she said.
Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, it passed with a vote of 99 to 16, and it goes into effect Oct. 1.
Cover image by S.Diddy, flickr creative commons