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Food Poisoning and the Law

Most Americans have had food poisoning at some point in their lives. Thankfully, it's usually minor, and we feel better in a few days or hours. However, recovering from more severe food poisoning cases can take weeks. You may experience significant medical bills, lost wages, or develop a severe health condition depending on the type of food poisoning you suffer.

You may have a legal claim for damages if you've suffered a foodborne illness. Each case is different. Whether the defendant is liable depends on the facts of your case. Here, we'll discuss food poisoning lawsuits and explain what to do if you become sick after eating contaminated food.

Common Types of Food Poisoning

Most food poisoning cases involve food contaminated by bacteria. The three most common types of food poisoning include E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. Mild cases of all three causes of food poisoning can result in nothing more than discomfort. However, severe cases can lead to complicated health issues and even death.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 48 million people get sick from contaminated food every year, and another 3,000 people die from their illnesses. If you or your loved one becomes sick after eating contaminated food, you may need to file a personal injury claim against the manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or the person/company that prepared the food.

Types of Food That May Make You Sick

Certain foods are more likely to make you sick. For example, any raw meat carries the risk of food poisoning. Some of the other foods that are more likely to cause food poisoning include:

  • Shellfish
  • Unpasteurized milk
  • Eggs and dairy
  • Seafood
  • Raw fruits and vegetables
  • Meat and poultry

If you cook your food, you should eliminate any bacteria or parasites. However, some foods are still dangerous regardless of how you cook them. You owe it to yourself and your family members to use safe foods and prepare them correctly.

Lack of Food Safety Puts Consumers at Risk

Food poisoning lawsuits are like any other product liability case. Your personal injury attorney must prove that the defendant was negligent or reckless. This can be difficult in the case of food poisoning.

While some food poisoning cases involve strict liability on the part of the defendant, your food poisoning lawyer must still prove your case. They'll need to demonstrate that you ate food prepared or provided by the defendant, that the food was bad, and that you got sick.

Depending on the severity of your illness, your attorney may demand significant damages. For example, hospitalization cases are usually worth more than cases where the plaintiff recovered at home.

Your Food Poisoning Attorneys Must Determine Why the Food Was Tainted

Most food product cases involve contaminated food. However, the way food bacteria taints your food can vary. Your attorney must demonstrate precisely how your food became contaminated. That's the only way to hold the defendant responsible.

Bacteria can contaminate food in a variety of different ways, including the following:

  • If someone with unclean hands prepares the food
  • If the chef prepares the food using dirty cooking utensils
  • If a chef or preparer doesn't cook meat thoroughly
  • If fish, oysters, or fruits are raw
  • If the defendant doesn't store the food at the right temperature

Symptoms of food poisoning can begin anywhere from two to six hours after eating the food and can last up to 48 hours. Some forms of food poisoning don't appear until two or three days after consumption.

Symptoms usually include fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, and weakness. The best way to treat food poisoning is to refuel your body with fluids, as dehydration is likely.

Is It Hard To Prove Food Poisoning?

While it may not be hard to prove that you have food poisoning, it is difficult to prove who was responsible. It is hard to trace exactly what it was that made you sick. You must first establish the food was contaminated to bring a successful claim. Then, your lawyer has to prove that the contaminated food made you ill.

This becomes harder if there is a long delay between eating the food and exhibiting symptoms. It's easier to do this if other consumers have gotten sick after consuming the food product.

Liability of Food Manufacturers

In many food poisoning cases, the manufacturer is to blame. Perhaps they used a recipe that contains dangerous ingredients such as raw meat or fish. They can also be liable if their production process is unsafe.

Many product liability cases involve strict liability. In these product liability claims, the manufacturer is liable regardless of whether they were negligent. Your attorney must prove that the defendant sold a defective product, which made you sick.

They don't need to show that the manufacturer made a mistake during production. Nor do they have to prove that they used a flawed design. Under the strict liability theory, it's enough that they used tainted food.

Liability of Food Distributors

Sometimes, plaintiffs in food poisoning lawsuits can pursue the distributor. Grocery stores and other sellers may be liable for issues introduced during the shipping and storage of foods. 

Imagine that you went to the store and bought hamburger meat to make lasagna. You cooked the meat and used clean utensils. A few hours after your guests eat dinner, they fall ill. You learn that the hamburger had been left out of the cooler overnight at the grocery store.

Grocery stores, convenience stores, and other distributors and retailers must sell safe products. When a store sells a food product, the product comes with a warranty that it is safe. By selling contaminated or tainted hamburger meat, the grocery store breaches the warranty of merchantability. Your personal injury lawyer can file suit for breach of warranty.

Liability of Restaurants and Individuals

Many food poisoning claims involve restaurants and individuals who prepare food. If a restaurant owner or manager doesn't correctly store their ingredients, they can be liable for negligence.

Chefs must also prepare and cook the food according to food safety standards. They can be liable for damages if they use dirty utensils or fail to cook raw meat to the appropriate temperature.

How To File a Food Poisoning Lawsuit

You may have a valid claim for damages if you develop food poisoning after eating contaminated meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, or other food products. You must take steps to protect your legal rights in these situations.

First, discard the remaining food, making sure you retain a sample of the tainted food for evidence. Second, visit a doctor or go to the emergency room. They'll run the necessary tests to discover the cause of your illness. If they determine that contaminated or spoiled food caused your condition, they'll document this in your medical records.

Once you receive medical attention, inform the local health department of the problem. Then, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. They'll give you the best legal advice to help determine your next steps. They'll also contact the defendant and try to settle your personal injury claim. They will file a lawsuit against all responsible parties if this isn't possible.

What Damages Can You Recover in Your Food Poisoning Lawsuit?

Once you file suit, your lawyer will gather the necessary evidence to prove your claim. They will also collect information to verify your damages. In most food poisoning cases, plaintiffs demand the following types of damages:

  • Medical expenses and future medical bills
  • Lost wages and lost future income
  • Property damage (if any)
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages

Remember that judges don't often award victims of food poisoning punitive damages. Your attorney must prove that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly to receive damages.

Learn More About Food Poisoning and the Law From a Lawyer

If you've suffered food poisoning and think you can trace its cause, an attorney can help protect your legal rights. Get started by contacting a local products liability attorney specializing in food poisoning cases to see if you have a strong wrongful death or personal injury case.

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