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Who’s To Blame For Food Poisoning?

It’s hard to have a good day when you’ve got food poisoning. You get to spend a couple days home from work or school (which may range from a well-earned rest to a catastrophic loss of income), but the time you spend there is nothing but misery. There’s the aching, bloated feeling in your stomach, the constant trips to the bathroom, the fear that anything you eat will come right back out, and the drowsiness that keeps you from doing anything interesting.

Of course, all of that is what you get from just a mild case of food poisoning. A bad case can take you to the hospital, and in some populations food poisoning can be lethal. So if you know that you and your family aren’t to blame for your illness, who should you point your finger at to get compensation for your loss of income and health?

Working Out The Evidence

The first problem with a case of food poisoning is proving that it happened and that one specific store or restaurant is to blame. It’s hard to pin down responsibility for a disease in general since there’s a time gap between cause and effect, a gap in which something else may have happened which caused the illness. Food poisoning in particular is a problem because very few of us eat only meal per day.

As far as proving that you got a foodborne illness, it’s best if you have a record from a doctor or a hospital. Without that kind of record, it’s too easy for a defendant to claim either that you’re mistaken about what kind of disease it was or else that you made up the illness entirely. It’s also unlikely that a lawyer or a judge will think you deserve enough compensation to need to sue, although you may still be able to go through a small-claims court.

The other problem is that you have to prove you were at the restaurant at the right time to get sick. A receipt makes this part easy, but not every restaurant offers receipts and not every customer keeps them. If you don’t have a receipt, your only real alternative is a positive identification from the server or cashier, and that won’t be very likely even if their manger doesn’t tell them to stay quiet. If you weren’t eating alone, you could use your companions as witnesses, but they won’t be worth as much.

Assigning The Blame

If you can prove that you got food poisoning and that a specific meal is to blame, then your next step will be to sue everyone who could possibly be at fault for the incident. One reason that this is standard procedure is because courts often assign different amounts of blame to different parties, which means that each party will pay a part of the award based on how much fault they bear.

Another reason is that personal injury cases have a statute of limitations, and so if you discover that a party you didn’t sue is truly at fault for an incident and the time limit has passed, you’re entirely out of luck. Finally, the fact is that larger corporations have deeper pockets, and so if you want full compensation for your injury, suing a corporation is the most likely way you’re going to get it.

Assigning exact levels of fault is a tricky process, and figuring this out is exactly why we have a court system in the first place. Still, there are a few guidelines you can use to start with:

  • If the food is sold raw and you’re meant to cook it yourself, then you’re probably the one at fault if you get sick. The manufacturer may get in trouble with the government if its products are contaminated, but your civil case likely won’t go anywhere.

  • If the food comes to the restaurant or store raw and they cook it on site, then the chef and the restaurant owner who hired him or her are foremost at fault. The chef should have known the food was unsafe unless cooked properly, and the restaurant owner should have hired a chef who wouldn’t make such an essential mistake.

  • If the food is something that should be safe when served raw, like fruits and vegetables, then the primary party at fault is the one who caused the contamination. It could be someone in the restaurant handled raw meat and then chopped vegetables, or it could be that someone at a packing plant did the same thing.

Food poisoning isn’t an easy case to win, but it’s sometimes essential. If you think you have a case, contact a personal injury lawyer near you and find out what your options are.