Yes, you can sue for food poisoning. The strength of your claim relies on a number of factors surrounding the situation, but you are able to sue restaurants and businesses for foodborne illnesses in some situations. To better understand why you may be able to take legal action against a party for causing you harm due to food poisoning, it is important to familiarize yourself with food poisoning, the causes, the symptoms, the types of exposure, and the legal precedents surrounding this topic.
In the following article, we will try to help you to better understand why you can sue for food poisoning.
Food Poisoning Lawsuits
Food poisoning lawsuits often fall under the category of product liability: a defective product (food) is served to a customer who, in turn, suffers from an injury due to the product. These lawsuits may also be considered toxic torts because the consumer is unknowingly exposed to a toxic product that causes that consumer harm.
Food poisoning and foodborne illnesses are some of the most common ailments every year, causing an onset of uncomfortable and sometimes severe symptoms.
Food-borne illnesses can affect people of all ages and sometimes come from sources you may not think of. Even some dietary and nutritional supplements and certain types of popular baby foods and baby formulas that cause illness have led to legal action, for example.
What Does a Foodborne Illness Look Like?
Food poisoning or foodborne illness is caused by eating food contaminated by infectious organisms including:
- Parasitic toxins
Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate various types of food and beverages at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.
Food poisoning symptoms can reveal themselves within hours of eating contaminated food, but sometimes take days or even weeks to appear. Food poisoning is usually mild and resolves without treatment, but some people require hospitalization for illnesses.
Serious cases of foodborne illness can lead to organ failure, chronic injury, and sometimes death. The CDC estimates that nearly 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illnesses.
Symptoms of Foodborne Illness
Symptoms of foodborne illnesses can be extremely uncomfortable, ranging from mild to severe. It is important to consider medical care and advice regardless of how severe symptoms are. Medical documentation is very important when considering a food poisoning lawsuit.
Mild symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain/cramps
Severe symptoms that point to a need for hospitalization include:
- Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
- Bloody vomit or stools
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
- An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F
- Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
Causes of Foodborne Illness
Different types of foods can carry bacteria and germs that cause illness.
Below are a list of contaminants and the foods they are generally found in:
- Campylobacter: Found in meat and poultry, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
- Salmonella: Often found in raw, undercooked and contaminated meat and poultry. Also found in milk and egg yolks.
- Clostridium botulinum: Found in improperly canned foods, fish, potatoes, and foods kept too hot for too long a time.
- Clostridium perfringens: Found in meats, stews, gravies, and generally when food is not kept hot enough or food is chilled too slowly.
- E. Coli: Found in beef (when undercooked or contaminated by feces during processing), unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.
- Giardia lamblia: Usually found in raw produce and contaminated water.
- Hepatitis A: Found in raw produce and shellfish.
- Listeria: Often found in hot dogs, lunch meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and raw produce.
- Norovirus: Found in raw produce, shellfish, and contaminated soil and water.
You Can Sue for Food Poisoning, But Should You?
Food poisoning lawsuits can often be difficult to file due to costs and the ability to prove you had food poisoning from a specific restaurant or company.
Cost in Time
Food poisoning lawsuits can be very lengthy and require a lot of background research. The litigation process can be very time demanding. Injured parties should consider whether their injury warrants the time commitment of legal action.
Cost in Money
Depending on what legal representation you select, a food poisoning lawsuit can be expensive, especially if your case is unsuccessful and your lawyer does not work on a contingency fee basis. Both the injured party and the attorney must consider whether the injury and subsequent losses incurred justify the financial commitment that a lawsuit would bring.
Proving Food Poisoning
This is the trickiest part of filing a food poisoning lawsuit. You must be able to prove that your illness is linked to eating a particular food or at a particular restaurant. Like many other dangerous exposure litigations, there are many outliers that could make it very difficult to prove liability for a particular illness or injury. Usually, there must be a larger number of plaintiffs who all suffered the same injury from the same source for a food poisoning lawsuit to be viable.
If a family of 4 consumed food from a local restaurant and all suffered from salmonella poisoning, it would be difficult to liability fell on the restaurant – the family could have consumed food somewhere else, even at home.
If a customer-base of 50 people all suffered injuries related to E. Coli exposure after consuming the same lettuce at a local farmers market, it would be easier to hold that farmer or vendor accountable.
When You Should Sue for Food Poisoning
You should go ahead with a food poisoning lawsuit and hire an experienced attorney when you have sufficient documentation and evidence that your illness is linked to a particular food or dining experience. You should be sure that your evidence is adequate in showing that there is no doubt that your injury resulted from exposure from a certain vendor, manufacturer, or service provider.
Food poisoning and foodborne illnesses can be extremely serious, so it is important to consider legal representation if you are harmed as a result of a restaurant or company’s wrongdoing.
Reasons you should pursue legal action for food poisoning include:
You Are Injured or Incurred Damages
In a food poisoning lawsuit, the injury would be the food-borne illness. Damages include loss of income while you were out sick, money you spent on medical bills, and emotional distress.
Remember, a lawsuit can be expensive. Your total damages should justify the financial burden of legal action.
Your Injury Is a Direct Result of the Defendant
You should pursue legal action if it can be proven that the foodborne illness is the defendant’s fault. This entails also being able to prove that your illness did not come from any other food and a particular food or dining experience is to blame for the onset of symptoms.
Defendant’s Actions Directly Led to Your Consumption of Contaminated Food
Being able to link your illness with improper handling of food, such as cross contamination or improper safety standards at a restaurant, can push the odds in your favor in regard to a successful lawsuit.
How Much Time Do I Have To File My Food Poisoning Lawsuit?
Statute of limitations for product liability claims differ between each state. Most product liability claims involving injury have a two to four year statute of limitations.
Generally, you have 2 years from the time of injury to take legal action. However, this varies by state and by type of litigation. You should familiarize yourself with your state’s statutes of limitations and seek legal assistance to help establish your timeline.
Food Poisoning Lawsuit Settlement Amounts
Settlement amounts differ across food poisoning lawsuits, relying upon the strength of the claim, severity of injuries and damages, number of people affected, and more.
Individual settlements for food poisoning lawsuits can range from a few thousand dollars, to sometimes over $500,000.
These figures are very reliant on the details of each individual case. It is best to consult with an attorney to get a better estimation of your potential case value.
Class Action Food Poisoning Lawsuits
Class action lawsuits involving food poisoning or food-borne illnesses that affect a group of people are possible and can pay out very large amounts.
While not as common, class action food poisoning lawsuits do occur from time-to-time. Usually, these lawsuits are filed against major food manufacturers or processors after an outbreak causes injury on a mass consumer level. You may be familiar with some of these stories, such as salmonella outbreaks in produce products at grocery stores.
However, in rare cases, class actions can be filed against smaller entities. For example, a Mexican restaurant in South Carolina has been facing a class action lawsuit involving over 300 plaintiffs after dozens of people contracted norovirus from their food. A preliminary settlement of over $1 million has been agreed.