Coke and Pepsi: Liability from selling soda in schools?

While I’m an advocate for the consumers overall, I often have to supress the urge to roll my eyes at some of the daft lawsuits that are brought against deep-pocket corporations. I mean, really, if you get hot coffee, does it really make sense to tuck it between your legs and pop the lid to add cream while you’re driving down the road? (McDonald’s lost a huge lawsuit over that one)
There are plenty of these stories – indeed my friend Randy Cassingham has written an amusing and depressing book about these stupid lawsuits called The True Stella Awards, which I highly recommend — but the latest lawsuit that’s brewing will make even the most hardened consumer advocates pause in wonder, I think.
According to The Washington Post, a coalition of lawyers are preparing a massive class action suit against soft-drink makers for selling soda in schools.
What the heck?


Okay, I know that soda makers offer significant bounties to schools that agree to feature their brands and sodas in machines on campus and even offer to split revenue from vending machines, but where in this entire situation is free will? Aren’t school administrators able to say “no, thanks” or “we’ll do it if you include waters, juices, and other healthy drinks in the machines too” or similar?
The article explains: The suit’s legal basis will be tied to the concept of “attractive nuisance: If somebody has something on his land like a swimming pool that he knows is attractive to kids and dangerous, then he has some obligation to keep the kids away from it,” Daynard said. “You want to keep kids away from dangerous objects, and a soda machine is demonstrated to be a dangerous object for kids.”
Um, and what about those terrible companies that sell flatware, including, gasp, knives that could cut children or forks that could be used to stab another kid? Or what about having a curb in front of your house that becomes a popular skateboard jump and then ends up the scene of a teenager slipping, falling, and injuring herself? Is the curb an “attractive nuisance”?
Gadzooks!
One more quote from the article: Victor E. Schwartz, a Washington lawyer who has advised many major companies on product-liability policies, said the case “would require a radical modification of traditional liability laws with an expansion of statutory consumer-protection claims.” However, he noted, Massachusetts is one of the few states in the country where plaintiffs do not have to demonstrate actual damage in a consumer-protection case — just that a violation occurred.
Am I wrong here? Are the soda manufacturers engaged in terrible behavior and deserve the full weight of the law dropping on their heads, or is this just another multi-million-dollar waste of taxpayer’s money as the courts are filled up with frivolous lawsuits and lawyers getting paid far more than they’re really worth?
As for us, we’re parents. We decide what our children will drink and we trust them and expect that they’ll be consistent and true to our familial rules about beverages, sweets and other foodstuff. No lawsuit needed.

13 comments on “Coke and Pepsi: Liability from selling soda in schools?

  1. o.O why is it that this only happens in America? I mean really, what kind of blatent waste of time is it to claim a law suit because sodas are sold in schools? What about candy bars? What about the actual school meals themselves? Heck, what about air?
    The lawyers presenting this case are either a) on crack b) on pot c) on too many meds or d) did not have a relationship with their father and are now lashing out at society… its ok… counselling and a padded room is waiting for you.

  2. Actually, the McDonalds suit isn’t as silly as it sounds. Some of their coffee machines were set to too high a temperature, and had already caused many injuries. They knew about this and didn’t fix it. They were in a better position than the customers to know that there was an excess risk. So there was some justification to the lawsuit, although the system delivered a disproportionate award for damages.

  3. This one is patently simple. If our tort laws reflected the stupidity of these lawyers who think they are soooo clever, we wouldn;t have frivolous lawsuits at all. How simple? LOSING PARTY PAYS! I wonder how freely these “lawyers” would be bringing these idiotic lawsuits, if they knew in advance they or their willing clients would foot the bill?

  4. Sadly, this is the kind of thing that the “tort reform” (aka – “screw the little guy and let Big Business put whatever unsafe or shodily produced crap out there with little or no repercussions”) folks live for. Shysters (sp?) who twist good rules to make themselves a few bucks, and people who take absolutely no responsibility for their own actions will lead to artificially low limits put on judgements.
    A popular example of “runaway judgements” was raised during the last Presidential elections. John Edwards had won a $4 million judgement in favor of a family whose child got sucked into a pool recirculation grating. What his detractors didn’t point out was that the manufacturer of the system had been told many times of this defect by others who had been hurt by the defect.
    Some of the limits being discussed are on pain and suffering and punitive damages. with limits as low as $125,000. Amazingly, that is approximately half the amount the Delay family received from a product liability judgement a few years back. That is the Delay family that includes Tom Delay, who is pushing strongly for the limits.
    An example of how unfair those limits would be (and how ineffective) is the pool story above. A majority of the $4 million was for pain and suffering and punitive damages. If that $125k limit existed, then the product manufacturer would have had much less incentives to fix their faulty product.
    By the way – I am not a lawyer. I know a couple of good ones (including a brother-in-law, who’d be a good guy whether he practiced law or was a computer geek like me), and I know a couple of bad ones. Unfortunately, bogus suits could eventually harm society by sharply curtailing product liability suits.

  5. This stupid! Could a good looking female walking down the street be sued using this logic? Hold the lawyers personally responsible if the case is lost. I bet this would cut down on frivolous lawsuits. Don’t these fools have any other thing to do? I am sure there are some other causes the lawyers could undertake which would provide a greater benifit to society, for instance, insurance reform, crimes against children, tax reform and protections for the many freedoms we are losing every day.
    Does this mean I can be sued since I installed the software which was used to make a chip which was part of a cell phone which was being used while the owner of the phone was driving and talking on the phone at the same time at the time he/she wiped out an entire family? I say not. Just take the driver out and give he/she 50 lashings in a public place or make the driver paint the car neon pink for 5 years to warn others he/she was stupid.
    If they win the lawsuit for selling soda in schools, where can I submit all my past cavity bills?

  6. It really boils down to a lack of personal responsibility and accountability. Qualities that seem to be dwindling in many of America’s citizens. The mindset “I don’t have to be accountable for my own actions; I can always sue somebody.” grows stronger each day, and ridiculous lawsuits follow in stride.
    Take responsibility for your own actions. Be a parent! Don’t blame food and beverage companies for YOUR lack of control over your child. Involve yourself in your child’s life. If your child is fat – get them involved in sports. Letting your child watch 40+ hours of TV a week isn’t healthy – and it is your (the parent’s) fault. Not having the time to be a parent is not an excuse.
    These court cases are a waste of tax payer money and an abuse of the democratic and judicial systems. The continuance of this trend is a direct cause in the breakdown of civility, morality and ethics. Food and beverage vendors do not put a gun to your head and force you to buy their products. Forget the commercials, forget the advertising, forget peer pressure. You as an individual make your own decisions – if you make the wrong ones, you have only yourself to blame.

  7. What nonsense. Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times and a preview of even worse things to come. For the BOTTOM LINE, the problem isn’t with the lawyers, judges and politicians. The problem is with the everyday Joe. Personal responsibility is waning. A century ago, a handshake would seal a deal. Now, reams of paperwork are required to secure that same deal. Same thing with lawsuits. The more the lawyers are successful with the lawsuits, the more they will sue. Ultimately, who pays? You and I. I hope this suit goes the way of the guy that tried to sue McDonalds because he got fat stuffing numerous Big Macs down his pie hole each day. But the strategy of these lawyers is to keep plugging away and set new precedent. Granted, there are legitimate lawsuits, but the future is ominous.

  8. I agree with Dave but I would like to add that Big Companies go to awful lengths to sell and morality and ethics go down the drain in these cases. The welfare of Kids looks good on all those shiny ads only. I have also a similar story on my parenting blog iLovemybaby. I look forward to seeing more anti-smoking stories too.

  9. I am an attorney and an attachment parent, and I have to comment on this article! As for the McDonalds case, the woman in question was burned so severely by the coffee that she had to have skin grafts in her nether regions. McDonalds knew their coffee was at a temperature that would cause serious injury and had been alerted by several affected parties. They chose not to fix the problem, and as a result, this woman was injured. Had the coffee been at a reasonable temperature, the burn wouldn’t have occurred, and therefore McDonalds should be held liable for her injuries. As for the punitive damages being so high, the intent of punitive damages is to hit their pocketbook hard enough to make them stop the action that is causing harm. Anything smaller would be pocketchange for McDonalds and wouldn’t cause the change intended with punitive damages.
    Could a good looking woman be sued for an attractive nuisance? Of course not. The attractive nuisance doctrine says that “[a]n attractive nuisance is any inherently hazardous object or condition of property that can be expected to attract children to investigate or play (for example, construction sites and discarded large appliances). The doctrine imposes upon the property owner either the duty to take precautions that are reasonable in light of the normal behavior of young children–a much higher degree of care than required toward adults–or the same care as that owed to “invitees”–a higher standard than required toward uninvited, casual visitors (licensees).” http://insurance.cch.com/rupps/attractive-nuisance-doctrine.htm
    Basically, it means a property owner has a duty not to attract children to something that will harm them. Whether Coke or Pepsi are things that will cause children harm that the schools have a duty to protect children from remains to be seen. It is perhaps a stretch in my book, but regardless, I don’t think this is a frivolous lawsuit. There is certainly some basis to it given the attractive nuisance doctrine.
    Of course, we all wish we could keep our kids from drinking sugary sodas, but when they are offered at school, how can we stop it as parents? Perhaps a better alternative than a lawsuit is to lobby the school board to have the soda machines removed from the schools.

  10. I think you should do a little more research before trying to create a website about lawsuits. The lady who was burned by the McDonalds coffee wasn’t driving the car down the street. She was in the passenger seat and the driver had pulled the car over so she could add the cream to her coffee safely. She was severely burned only because McDonalds keeps their coffee much hotter than necessary. Initially the woman didn’t even want a lawsuit. She first asked McDonalds to cover her medical bills and when they refused, only then did she decide to sue them.

  11. I’m all for parents take responsibility for their own actions and those of their children. But, really, how much control can you retain over your child’s choices when they are bombarded with poor choices at school (that nobody acknowledges to actually be poor choices)?
    Coke & PepsiCo use almost predatory-like tactics to draw kids in yet their only concern is profits, not what’s good for the children.
    And they use likewise strategies to prey upon schools who are in financial straits to swoop in a heros, giving aid in the form of shared profits and subsidized educational materials. But really, all these companies are doing is cultivating life-long customers.
    The nutritional values that you attempt to teach your children at home may have a hard time holding up once your child sets foot in the front door of the school or their friends’ homes and get hit with peer pressure and the insidious and relentless advertising blitzes from the likes of Coka Cola, PepsiCo, McDonalds, Hersheys, et al.
    More people desperately need to read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” to get some real insight about how our youth are being aggresively and targeted by remorseless companies whose only goal is to increase their own bottom-line. Schlosser goes far beyond what Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” did to peel back the veil on this stuff.
    By the way, back in August ’05, the American Beverage Association heroicly recommended that elementary schools no longer sell soda pop in vending machines, stating “Childhood obesity is a real problem.” The intent is that, instead of carrying Coke, Pepsi, and their many sweetened cousins, school vending machines will be stocked with more bottled water and juice. But before you nominate these folks for sainthood for sacrificing profits to improve our kids’ health, you might want to look a little closer – bottled water is the fastest growing major beverage category, and much of that growth has come at the expense of soda. (Pepsi-Cola makes Aquafina, the #1 bottled water; Coke makes Dasani.) Given that water is cheaper to make and market than soda, the ABA’s decision is a perfect one-two punch: a PR coup and a savvy shift from a mature, besieged product to a booming one. The move is still all about expanding and/or maintaining customer base.

  12. Heroes?
    These guys are now trying to get sodas in school with names like “sparkling juice” and “sparkling green tea”. With 35-40 grams of sugar per bottle, they are still toxic soda. Organic? Healthy? Fair Trade?
    When will people stop believing the marketing and start reading the labels?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Why is Steaz sparkling green tea sold in schools when it has 35 grams of sugar in a bottle and carbonation? Another loophole exposed in today’s school nutrition policies.Soda is soda.

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