The New York Times reports on some experienced plaintiffs’ lawyers who are hoping to rip big sums out of food companies alleging mislabeling; one is particularly outraged at a yogurt maker’s use of the “evaporated cane juice” euphemism for sugar. “The lawyers are looking to base damages on products’ sales…. [They] are being selective about where these suits are filed. Most have been filed in California, where consumer protection laws tend to favor plaintiffs.” The Times article, which reads somewhat like a press release for the lawyers involved, flatteringly describes them as “the lawyers who took on Big Tobacco,” though in fact a much larger group of lawyers played prominent roles in the Great Tobacco Robbery of 1998, and no evidence is presented that most of that larger group are taking any interest in the food-labeling campaign. What’s more, the many efforts by the plaintiff’s bar to identify a suitable Next Tobacco in the intervening years have been full of false starts and fizzles, including such mostly-abortive causes as mass litigation over alcohol, slavery reparations, HMOs, and dotcom failures.
The Times does draw the link to Proposition 37, the lawyer-sponsored measure I wrote about last week, which could open up a basis for rich new suits based on failure to correctly affix labeling tracking the sometimes-fine distinctions between genetically modified foodstuffs and all others. The text of Proposition 37 proposes to base minimum damages on the total sales volume of a product sold out of compliance, not on any measure of actual harm to consumers (& Thom Forbes, Marketing Daily; Ted Frank, Point of Law). Earlier on Don Barrett here and on Walter Umphrey and Provost Umphrey here and here.