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California: Home of the food lawsuit

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  • California’s Northern District of California Food Court is a cash cow waiting to be milked and bilked.

Wanna sue somebody? Then go west and chase an ambulance — or food truck — into California’s ill-famed Food Court and behold a cash cow waiting to be milked and bilked.

The lawyers are tripping over each other in the Northern District of California — bravely fighting for their spot in the legal queue as they expose the hell unleashed on the American consumer through product labeling terms such as organic, sugarless, no sugar added, low-cal, and 100 percent natural.

Hershey chocolate, Twining’s tea, Chobani yogurt, Trident gum, and basket of others are in the firing line, accused of defrauding and tricking Americans.

From Fox & Hounds: “The number of consumer fraud class actions brought in federal court against food and beverage companies has skyrocketed in the last 5 years. In 2008, there were roughly 19 cases. That number jumped to 102 in 2012. Where are the vast majority of these cases being filed? California.”

The American Tort Reform Association puts the Northern District of California on the top rung of its list of Judicial Hellholes.

The trial lawyers, having exhausted the old boilerplate suits involving Cheeto dependence and Twinkie addiction, have moved on to challenging the “hawking of granola bars, fruit juice, and green tea as being good for you.” As William Stern, a partner with Morrison & Foerster (a firm which is trying to get several food suits booted) tells Businessweek: “Hyper-technical does not begin to describe this litigation. Trivial might be a better word.”

Paul Barrett, writing a sharp column in Businessweek, offers this example of a California suit involving Trident: The gum is advertised as “sugar free.” However, the plaintiff’s allege the “Term is improper unless the label also says ‘not a reduced-calorie food’ or ‘not for weight control.’”

Does it pay off for the plaintiffs? It sure did in 2009 when Dannon settled a case involving yogurt digestive claims for $35 million.

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