Can you sue for food poisoning?

The Tex-Mex chain Chipotle agreed to pay a whopping $25 million fine to resolve charges that it served contaminated food that made more than 1,100 people sick over three years. 

With so many people opting for take-out and delivery beyond the traditional dine-in option, the safety of our meals has never been more in question. And if you wind up in the hospital for several days due to a contaminated meal, you are well within your rights to have the restaurant that served you the food cover your medical expenses. 

Negligence

If you do get sick from a tainted meal at a restaurant, that business could very well be liable for preparing or storing food improperly. And in the case of Chipotle, they could be found serving a product they knew was defective. 

According to the federal government, Chipotle violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by knowingly serving “adulterated” food that caused four separate outbreaks of norovirus from 2015 – 2018. Norovirus causes symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. 

Negligence

To win a food poisoning case, you must show negligence. In this case, that means proving a restaurant or food business failed to provide a safe environment, safe products such as meals, and failed to eliminate unreasonable dangers.

The Proof is in the Pudding (so to speak)

  • Did the business cause food contamination? 
  • Was the restaurant or food business the sole cause of the illness or food poisoning?
  • Can the source of the food poisoning be identified? If you get sick, consult a doctor immediately to determine the source of illness and identify the contaminated food.
  • Can you prove harm or injury? It’s not so much that you got sick. It’s the severity of your symptoms that will make or break your case. 

Strict Product Liability

States have what’s called Strict Product Liability laws, which outline how a retailer can be held liable if anyone is injured by the product they sold even if they didn’t produce it. That’s why you’re now seeing Amazon, a re-seller, facing lawsuits over the sale of defective products on its site. 

The same can apply to food and food contamination cases. In fact, under “Strict Product Liability,” anyone involved in the making and distribution of a product or food like a produce supplier, manufacturer, and even a grower can be sued. 

Breach of Warranty

Breach of Warranty refers to the understanding that a product will meet a buyer’s expectation. In the case of food contamination, a customer can cite that the food or meal didn’t meet their expectation of being safe to eat. Under this argument, a customer could also fault anyone involved in the distribution chain, much like the Strict Product Liability argument. 

Damages

A judgment or settlement of a food contamination case would most likely cover the following costs:

  • Loss of income
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Medical costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

If you or someone you know has accumulated large medical bills due to food contamination, consult with an attorney to review your case.