How Do You Determine Liability for Food Poisoning?

Many people develop food poisoning at some point in their lives. From undercooked meat to unclean preparation techniques, food poisoning is unpleasant and could cause complications. While food poisoning is common and usually does not cause lasting harm, some cases can be harmful and cause severe distress to the victim. In these cases, the victim could launch a legal claim against those responsible for the food poisoning.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning happens when food contains a harmful virus or bacteria that causes illness when ingested. Food poisoning can occur through multiple avenues.

  • Undercooked meat, particularly chicken
  • Raw fish, oysters, or fruits that carry a virus or bacteria
  • Improper food storage, or not storing food at the proper temperature
  • Food preparation using dirty utensils
  • Food preparation using unclean hands

Food poisoning symptoms begin anywhere between two to six hours following consumption, lasting up to two days on average. Food poisoning symptoms range in severity.

  • Fevers ranging from mild to high
  • Moderate to severe headaches
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Diarrhea and increased bowel movements
  • Weakness and fatigue

Symptoms eventually subside and improve with increased fluid intake, since food poisoning often causes dehydration. It can be very difficult to prove food poisoning, since the source of contamination can be hard to pinpoint. To prove a claim of food poisoning, it must be determined that the food the victim ate contained contamination and this same contaminated food led to the food poisoning.

Determining Liability in Food Poisoning Cases

The business selling the contaminated food may be liable for the injuries sustained by the victim. Not all food poisoning cases fall under the same liability theory. Food poisoning cases can take on any of the following forms.

  • A food business has the duty to provide a standard of care to their clientele. A business in the food industry must maintain a level of cleanliness and a safe environment for their food products. If the business fails to provide this care, the courts can find it liable for food poisoning. Maintaining a dirty kitchen, improper food storage, and not wearing gloves when handling food can all contribute to negligence. A finding of negligence can occur if the court determines that the business’s unsafe practices led to the poisoning and that the poisoning caused harm or injury.
  • Breach of warranty. Most states have implied warranties that state that a product will meet minimum quality standards, such as being safe to eat. If a food causes illness, the business breached the warranty and did not meet quality standards.
  • Strict products liability. Most states have a form of strict products liability that states that if a food is defective and dangerous, causing illness, the business or manufacturer can be liable for injuries. Victims do not need to prove a lack of reasonable care to make a strict products liability case. Anyone along the chain of distribution may be liable, including the restaurant, retailer, manufacturer, and wholesaler.

Possible Damages for Food Poisoning Victims

Victims who suffer losses and injury as a result of food poisoning from a contaminated product may be able to recover the following damages from a lawsuit against the liable parties.

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Lost income due to recovery
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Any out-of-pocket expenses related to the illness

Determining liability in food poisoning cases and pinpointing the case of the illness can be difficult to accomplish alone. Victims may face roadblocks to proving their cases without the help of an attorney. A product liability attorney can assist food poisoning victims in launching an investigation into the incident, finding the cause of the illness, identifying at-fault parties, and determining which form of liability to use.