Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Good intentions, but a little it over the top?

It seems that Richard Daynard (with whom I am acquainted) and John Banzhaf, public interest attorneys who battered the tobacco companies into submission a decade ago, are about to sue the manufacturers of sugary soft drinks over the agreements they have made to sell their products in schools. Go for it!

They are also sending out very unsubtle warnings to members of local school boards that if their school districts have participated in such agreements, they could face various categories of individual unpleasantness as a result of coming lawsuits. From Banzhaf's site:

YOUR POTENTIAL INVOLVEMENT AS A PARTY: For more serious is the real possibility that school boards -- and possibly even individual school board members -- will become involved as named parties to these law suits. This could happen in several ways.
FIRST, the bottler defendants could seek to bring the school boards in as necessary parties. They presumably would argue that it is the school boards -- entities charged with the primary responsibility for protecting the health of the children -- which made the final decision to provide students with sugary soft drinks during school, and that the school boards are therefore an essential part of any resolution of the problem.
SECOND, perhaps as the result of pre-trial discovery of previously unknown facts -- e.g., secret memos or minutes of school board meetings, "wining and dining" of school board members or other benefits to them, etc. -- the pleading by the initial plaintiffs could be amended to include new parties such as school board members.
THIRD, other parents who believe that the school board and its members are at least equally at fault -- including some who might wish to run for school board membership and/or have other agendas they wish to promote -- may bring new law suits against the school board and/or its members, and then probably seek to have these new law suits consolidated with the existing law suits (i.e., those by the initial plaintiffs against the bottlers).

YOUR POTENTIAL LEGAL LIABILITY: School boards -- and in some cases even individual school board members -- could be sued and potentially held liable under a variety of legal theories ("causes of action"). Some of the major ones are discussed very briefly below. . . .

And it goes on from there, and just gets scarier. In other words, these lawyers want to scare the school committee members straight -- get the toxic slurm out of your public schools, or you will be sorry.

Maybe this is right, maybe it's called for, maybe it will be effective. Or maybe it's counterproductive bullying of ordinary citizens called to public service who suddenly find themselves in over their heads, and it's just going to lend credence to Republican trial-lawyer bashing and give the soda companies an opportunity to make themselves look like they're the kind and gentle dogs in this fight.

What do you think?

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