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Suing for Food Poisoning: Can You Do it? What do Settlements Look Like? 

By: Anapol Weiss

The question of whether you can sue for food poisoning regularly comes up. With emerging health risk factors, the broader question of whether you can sue for an illness contracted from take-out or in-restaurant dining is on the rise. Food poisoning lawsuits do happen, and some victims have won the food poisoning lawsuit settlements that help them mitigate their financial damage and help them pay for their recovery, but not every incidence of food poisoning is a good candidate for a personal injury lawsuit.

Food-Borne Illnesses

You can sue for food poisoning under certain circumstances, but you need to understand exactly what food poisoning entails before you can determine if those circumstances fit. Food poisoning occurs when the food you eat has become contaminated, causing the person who eats it to become ill.

This contamination can come from a chemical that is introduced to the food which causes a reaction, a biological contaminant, such as a bacteria, that is naturally occurring in the food but that has grown in concentration to the point it is harmful, or a biological contaminant that was introduced to the food through cross-contamination or poor hygiene.

Just as you can sue for food poisoning, you can sue for other closely-related injuries from food. If you’ve been injured by a foreign object, such as a shard of glass in a beverage, you may have a right to compensation. Likewise, if you contract another non-food-borne illness through negligence on the part of the food provider, a personal injury claim may be able to help you recoup your medical cost and lost wages. Your first step in any food poisoning or personal injury lawsuit should always be to consult an attorney about the specifics of your claim.

Common Food Poisoning Bacteria

Food poisoning accounts for 48-million illnesses each year. While about a quarter of them come from known bacteria, viruses, or parasites, the rest come from other or unknown sources. Some of the most-often cited biological contaminants include:

  • E. Coli – Often the result of fecal contamination, E. coli is most often associated with ground meats, unwashed leafy green vegetables, and poor hygiene in the kitchen.

  • Listeria – Prevalent in processed meats, raw produce, and unpasteurized dairy products.

  • Salmonella – While potentially from many sources, often found in undercooked pork, poultry, and eggs.

  • Norovirus – Produce, shellfish, and any food product handled by an infected person are the most at-risk sources.

  • Botulism – Found in canned or preserved foods that have not been properly processed as well as honey.

  • Hepatitis – Caught from undercooked shellfish, oysters, and undercooked or underheated foods prepared by an infected food handler.

You Can Sue For Food Poisoning, But Should You?

With the high number of infections, you would expect food poisoning lawsuit settlements to be more abundant, but in many cases victims choose not to file a food poisoning lawsuit, instead opting to report the illness to local health authorities and focus on their recovery. There are several reasons for this.

Cost In Time

Most food poisoning instances will run their course in a matter of a few uncomfortable days, with some lasting mere hours and others hanging on for a week. Unless you contract a lingering illness that hangs on for an extended period of time, it is often not worth it to enter into a lawsuit that can take months to resolve, if not years.

Cost In Money

Partially due to the limited amount of time most people are sick with food poisoning, the damages incurred are also usually more limited. Unless your illness proceeds to the point of hospitalization, the financial impact is usually not worth the length process of pursuing a lawsuit, even though you can sue for food poisoning.

Difficulty Proving Case

The criteria for winning a food poisoning lawsuit is the same as for most personal injury cases. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the illness, today’s busy lifestyle, and the quickly evolving nature of a food-borne illness, this can prove extremely difficult.

When You Can Sue For Food Poisoning And Win

There are situations when you not only can but should consider seeking food poisoning lawsuit settlements. You have the right to compensation when you’ve been injured by the actions of another. In order to exercise that right, the following criteria need to be met:

You Were Injured Or Incurred Damages

In the case of foodborne illnesses, you must have contracted an illness from contaminated food products severe enough to require hospitalization or other medical interventions. For the case to move beyond small claims court, the total for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering should be of a significant amount.

Your Injury Is A Direct Result By Actions Of The Defendant

In order to win a claim for food poisoning, you need to be able to demonstrate that the defendant was the one who caused your illness and that it is not likely to have come from other sources. This can be difficult, as we seldom consume food from only a single source. This can be easier in cases where the food provider has been linked to a known and widespread outbreak with multiple complaints.

The Defendant’s Actions Directly Led To Your Consumption Of Contaminated Food

Another factor that can prove difficult to illustrate, you need to be able to link the illness to a defendant’s improper handling of food. Whether it’s policies that allow for improper hygiene, food that’s served undercooked, or another form of negligence, their actions must have allowed for the contamination. Frequently, the defendant’s argument will be to show that the contamination could have occurred after the food was out of their control, such as a takeout order that may have been allowed to sit too long before consumption and was not properly reheated.

Food Poisoning Lawsuit Settlements

Every food poisoning case is different, and past results don’t guarantee the success of your case or any payment amount. Settlements for food poisoning can vary greatly depending on the nature of the case, the damages the victim faces, and the suffering they’ve endured. While cases with judgments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more exist, your own results will likely be more modest and based on the actual damages incurred. For severe cases with long-lasting medical effects, your lawyer can give you a better idea of the compensation you may be owed.

If you need more information based on your specific case whether you can sue for food poisoning, schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys. We’ll talk to you about your complaint, your options to move forward, and if a food poisoning lawsuit is right for you, how we can prepare a case to help you get the settlement you need to begin your financial recovery after the medical bills and missed time at work you’ve suffered. Contact Anapol Weiss to start working with your Philadelphia personal injury attorney today.