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Can You Sue a Restaurant for Food Poisoning?

If you have ever eaten out at some point in your life, chances are good that you have suffered from food poisoning at some point or another. Contracting a foodborne illness is always an unpleasant experience and usually requires several days of recovery time. With that being said, is food poisoning enough to warrant a lawsuit? The short answer is yes, but doing so is not always worthwhile.

Restaurants have a duty to act with reasonable care to prevent injury to their patrons. This duty includes taking responsible steps to ensure their food is safe to consume. If a patron suffers food poisoning at a restaurant, he may have grounds for a lawsuit against the establishment itself and other actors in the restaurant’s supply chain. However, the key to winning a case for food poisoning is establishing causation. It is not enough to show you got sick after eating at a restaurant; you must prove the food at the restaurant made you sick.

Proving Food Poisoning

In the past, authorities relied on circumstantial evidence of numerous people all getting sick around the same time after dining at the same restaurant. However, in many cases, patrons who became sick would not report their illness or would attribute the illness to another source. Only when victims had knowledge of each other would the suspicion of food poisoning be confirmed. By that time, any evidence of tainted food could have disappeared.

Fortunately, it has never been easier than it is today to trace an infection to its source. Common food borne pathogens are bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella, and viruses, such as Hepatitis A. In some cases, a sick employee could have tainted the food. This type of contamination is common when an employee fails to wash after using the toilet. But whatever the source, bacteria leave a DNA “fingerprint.” Health officials can perform forensic tests to find that fingerprint and match it to a source.

Your doggy bag can be a valuable resource. If the food did sicken you, the same pathogen should be present on your leftovers.

Is a Lawsuit Possible?

California law allows injury and illness victims to take legal action against those responsible for their suffering. In the case of food poisoning lawsuits, the following areas of law may come into play.

  • Product Liability: Under product liability law, companies who provide goods and services are required to provide safe, defect-free products that do not cause harm to customers with reasonable use. For restaurants, this means they must adhere to safe food handling practices and sell food that is free of food borne pathogens.
  • Personal Injury: Personal injury law establishes that a person or company may be held liable for any injuries or illnesses to others caused by negligence. Examples of negligent actions in food borne illness cases include failure to follow proper hand washing standards, knowingly serving expired food, or storing ingredients near dangerous substances or chemicals.

While you may have legal standing to sue a restaurant for a legitimate case of food poisoning, doing so may not always be worth your time.

Is it Worth It to Sue for Food Poisoning?

Although many bouts of food poisoning are mild, causing only vomiting and diarrhea, severe cases can require hospitalization and can result in neurological symptoms, kidney or liver damage, and even death. If you suffer food poisoning, you are entitled to personal injury compensation for your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other foreseeable damages. Given the extensive amount of time and cost of litigation, however, the payout for this type of lawsuit may not be worth it.

Given the extensive amount of time and cost of litigation, it is generally only recommended to sue for food poisoning in situations where the resulting sickness causes significant damages. If the restaurant has blatantly violated the health code, you could even collect punitive damages. It is always best to consult with an attorney to determine your eligible compensation and identify the best course of action for your case.

Pursuing a lawsuit for food poisoning may be worth it if:

  • Your sickness is severe enough to warrant hospitalization
  • Your sickness causes you to miss work for an extended period of time
  • Your sickness involves a deadly pathogen, such as E. coli, salmonella, or norovirus
  • Other people were sickened from the same restaurant

Successful prosecution of your food poisoning lawsuit requires immediate action. Call Crane Flores, LLP today at (805) 628-4967 or contact our offices online to schedule a free consultation.