Comic Mara Shapshay is suing the diet company, which counters that she's trying to force an unfair settlement

By Liza Hamm
Updated June 06, 2013 07:00 PM
Courtesy Mara Shapshay

L.A. comic Mara Shapshay isn’t finding her life very funny right now.

On May 29, Shapshay filed a negligence lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court against Jenny Craig, claiming she got 1,000 gallstones after using the weight-loss program.

Shapshay, an L.A.-based stand-up comedian who is also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post, says in the lawsuit that about one year after signing up for Jenny Craig, she “developed severe pain in her right abdomen” that sent her to the emergency room in October 2012.

Shapshay underwent surgery during which the gallstones were found, the lawsuit says.

Since then, Shapshay has been “required to undergo multiple surgeries, and suffered and continues to suffer from severe abdominal pain, fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and other injuries,” according to the lawsuit.

The comedian is seeking an undisclosed sum for damages allegedly caused by Jenny Craig’s failure to disclose that rapid weight loss over a prolonged period of time could result in health complications, including the development of gallbladder disease.

In a statement, Jenny Craig – which has used Valerie Bertinelli and Sara Rue as spokeswomen – calls the claims “irresponsible” and “extreme.”

“While Jenny Craig is sympathetic to any person suffering from medical conditions, it is irresponsible to claim that the Jenny Craig program was the cause of these issues,” says a spokesperson. “Jenny Craig’s program, whose clinical trial was published in JAMA in 2011, is designed by registered dieticians in close consultation with a medical advisory board and reflects the guidelines of major health organizations.”

The rep adds: “This lawsuit is a clear attempt to incite the public and seek a quick settlement.”

Dr. Tim Church, one of the company’s board members as well as the Director of Preventative Medicine and Research at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, argues that linking Jenny Craig to gallstones is unfair.

“Gallstones are extremely common,” he says. “You could buy a new car, get gallstones a week later and then claim the new car gave you gallstones. [It] doesn’t mean they’re connected.”

Patricia Bannan, an independent dietician and the author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight, says that rapid weight loss can increase the risk of gallstones and women whose waistlines yo-yo are also at a higher risk of developing them.

“There is no sure way to prevent gallstones,” adds Bannan, “but eating a balanced diet, getting exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk.”

Calls to Shapshay’s lawyers were not returned.

When one of Shapshay’s Twitter followers reached out to talk about a similar experience, the comedian wrote: “Glad I could help. That’s the reason why I went pubic.”

With reporting by JESSICA HERNDON and KEN LEE