We’ve blogged in the past about the necessity of an actual injury to maintain a lawsuit, and just yesterday, the New Jersey Appellate Division again reminded us that there must be some damage sustained before the law will permit recovery. In DeBenedetto v. Denny’s, Inc., No. A-4135-09T1, 2011 WL 67258 (N.J. App. Div. Jan. 11, 2011) [PDF], the Plaintiff sued Denny’s under the state Consumer Fraud Act [CFA], alleging that the restaurant chain failed to disclose the high sodium content in his typical breakfast of ham, bacon, sausage, and hash browns. Although the Plaintiff framed the action under the CFA (ostensibly because neither he nor his purported class had any injury), the court affirmed a dismissal and stated that crux of the claim was products liability, and, therefore, there must be some injury alleged.
Avid readers our site might predict that we will spend the next few paragraphs poking fun at the Plaintiff’s attorney’s inability to properly frame the cause of action or to understand what the word “damage” really means. But today we take a different tack and offer some litigation planning tips to our friends in the plaintiff’s bar. It’s no secret that excess sodium in the diet is bad for you [PDF]. But like a lot of other ingredients, sodium has some benefits, like extending the shelf-life of food. However, sodium may head the way of the trans fat, as there is an increasing awareness and governmental pressure to force reduction of sodium in food.
DeBenedetto may merely have been a test case to see how the courts would react to such claims. Perhaps the courts would not have been so quick to dismiss the case if the evils of excess sodium had gotten some more media attention over the past ten years. Sodium can cause problems with blood pressure and kidney function, but because causation of high blood pressure is multifactorial, causation may be difficult to prove, even given an injury. Maybe a few years from now, in a different state, a consumer fraud action might be more tolerable. Or maybe there is some political aspiration. Perhaps Mr. Wolf, the Plaintiff’s attorney, sees himself as a future sodium czar, helping to craft some FDA regulations. There’s nothing like being in front of an issue to add credibility to a position.
Nevertheless, it would not surprise me if excess dietary sodium quickly became a mainline issue, and whether it means a future tort suit or some other kind of remuneration, I am hard-pressed to believe that this New Jersey suit doesn’t fit in to some other larger litigation plan.