Law and Regulations

Fast Food Is Fattening? Bizarre Class Action Suits

Jim Arbogast | Digital Vision | Getty Images

The unpleasant details of a recent cruise aboard Carnival's ship Triumph painted a shocking picture of just how badly things can get at sea when things go very wrong. It should come as no surprise, then, that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Carnival Cruise Lines alleging failure to provide a seaworthy ship.

Few who are familiar with the squalid conditions that those passengers endured would begrudge them their right to sue. However, there have been instances in class-action history of lawsuits based on grievances that range from the questionable to the bizarre. Here are just a few.

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The Angry Inch

An Australian teenager recently made headlines when he uploaded a photo to the Internet which showed him holding a ruler against one of Subway's signature Footlong sandwiches. It measured only 11 inches, one inch shy of "footlong" status, and it may have inspired two current lawsuits against the Subway sandwich chain in New Jersey and Illinois.

The plaintiff in the Illinois case, Nguyen Buren, bought a Footlong at a Chicago Subway outlet that he alleges measured less than one foot. He is seeking more than $5 million in damages. His attorney, Tom Zimmerman, is currently trying to coordinate with attorneys in the New Jersey case to combine the suits into one class action, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Subway did not comment on the suits, but it issued a statement saying it would dedicate itself anew to achieving greater uniformity of sandwich length. "Our commitment remains steadfast to ensure that every Subway Footlong sandwich is 12 inches at each location worldwide," the statement said.

(Read more: Subway 'Wouldn't Exist' If Started Today, Due to Regulations: Founder Deluca)

Eddie Berman | Vetta | Getty Images

Breaking News: Beer Can Be Habit-Forming

In December 2012, a group of five men filed a lawsuit against such alcoholic beverage companies as Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller Brewing. They are incarcerated at a prison in Kuna, Idaho, and according to The Idaho Statesman, they believe they would all be free men if the brewers had warned consumers that alcohol can be habit-forming.

One of the plaintiffs, Keith Allen Brown, shot a man to death, earning a 15-year prison sentence. He said that this never would have happened without alcohol. "I have spent a great deal of that time in prison because of situations that have arose because of people being drunk, or because of situations in which alcohol played a major role," he said in an affidavit. "At no time in my life, prior to me becoming an alcoholic, was I ever informed that alcohol was habit forming and addictive."

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Jeremy Brown, is serving a 20-to-30-year sentence for a shooting that he said took place while he was drunk. He too claimed that he would never have begun drinking had he known that alcohol was addictive. "I honestly do not think that anyone who is young and who is planning a future, if they knew that alcohol was addictive and habit-forming, would ever drink alcohol beverages," he wrote in his affidavit. According to the Statesman article, the beverage companies named have not yet responded to the lawsuit.

(Read more: Could Lawsuit Halt Bud's Turnaround?)

The Super-Sized Grievance

The McDonald's fast food chain has been on the receiving end of class-action lawsuits numerous times. One notorious instance was the case of Pelman v McDonald's Corp., which involved a pair of customers who sued the chain for making food that they felt was responsible for their obesity.

The suit alleged that McDonald's had failed to adequately warn of the risks associated with frequent fast food consumption. It further alleged that the chain had violated consumer fraud statutes by falsely claiming that their products were neither addictive nor laden with empty calories.

The suit was thrown out in 2003 by Judge Robert Sweet, who said that it had failed to provide sufficient evidence that McDonald's food is addictive. More importantly however, he said that consumers themselves bore the responsibility for their food choices, saying "it is not the place of the law to protect [consumers] against their own excesses."