In general, you can sue a restaurant for food poisoning if the law and evidence support your personal injury or wrongful death claim. If the investigation into your illness finds the specific food item that made you sick, you may also have claims against a grower, food processor and distributor. This article will focus on restaurant liability (legal responsibility).
Below are 6 things you should know about getting compensation from a restaurant for food poisoning.
1. A medical professional will need to be consulted to determine the specific pathogen that caused the food poisoning. Foodborne pathogens include Campylobacter, E. coli, Hepatitis A, Listeria, Norovirus, Salmonella, Shigella and Vibrio. All of these except Hepatitis A and Norovirus are bacteria.
2. PFGE and/or WGS testing can be done on bacterial pathogens. If the illness is bacterial, isolates can be further tested to determine the “DNA fingerprint”. People sickened by bacteria with the same DNA fingerprint were most likely sickened by the same source. Health officials (often the CDC) do pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS) to find the DNA fingerprint. WGS also finds genetic markers indicating the geographic location of the source of the illness. Request a free consultation with our food safety attorneys HERE.
3. Even if the specific food item responsible for your illness is never determined, you may have a lawsuit against a restaurant, depending on the results of genetic testing discussed above and epidemiological evidence. For example, if 10 people are sickened with E. coli with matching PFGE patterns and those people all ate at the same restaurant during the same time period, health officials will most likely connect those illnesses with eating at the restaurant.
4. Some outbreaks of food poisoning are caused by a sick restaurant employee and not food. An ill food handler employed by the restaurant can transmit the illness either directly to food or to surfaces that come into contact with food. Many menu items can be contaminated with pathogens in this way. When this does happen, it means the food handler had a bowel movement and did not wash his or her hands, and that people sickened ate some of that food handlers feces.
5. Leftover food may be valuable evidence. If you get sick after eating at a restaurant and you have leftovers, do not throw them away. Contact a lawyer to find out if need to keep the leftovers as evidence.
6. If a restaurant was grossly negligent, there may be a punitive damages claim. Restaurants are heavily regulated. If an outbreak investigation finds that there was a pattern of blatant regulatory violations, that may be “gross negligence”. This is a legal issue, and your attorney will need to present sufficient evidence to prove you deserve punitive damages, which are amounts of money awarded to a food poisoning victim that are given to punish the corporate wrongdoer. These amounts are given in addition to amounts for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, emotional distress and other “compensatory damages.” Punitive damages can be significantly more than compensatory damages.
Attorney Fred Pritzker and his Bad Bug Law Team represent food poisoning victims throughout the United States. They have won millions for their clients. Fred is a nationally known food safety expert and recently spoke at Harvard Law School and Cornell University.
You can contact our food poisoning lawyers for a free consultation HERE regarding a lawsuit against a restaurant for food poisoning.