Can I Sue a Restaurant for Food Poisoning?

Doug Mann

There are few things more miserable than food poisoning. You went out to that place you like, had your favorite dish, and now it has come back to haunt you. You’re not alone – about one in six Americans suffer from food poisoning every year. Even mild food poisoning is terrible, but severe food poisoning can actually be dangerous. In fact, it can be deadly.

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Table of Contents
  1. Food Poisoning
  2. Food Safety Laws in Ohio
  3. Suing Restaurants for Food Poisoning
  4. Should you sue?
  5. What should you do?

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is a blanket term for a wide variety of food-born illnesses. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, mold, fungi, toxins, parasites, allergens, and anything else that you’re not supposed to eat. For example, you can get food poisoning in the form of salmonella, a bacteria transmitted in un- or under-cooked poultry. You can also get food poisoning from pesticides on produce that hasn’t been adequately washed. Different contaminants cause different types of illnesses – salmonella is a bacterial infection but pesticides are toxins. One can be treated with antibiotics while the other may require treatments ranging from forced vomiting to ingesting active charcoal.

Mild food poisoning can cause discomfort, diarrhea, and vomiting. Severe food poisoning can caused permanent damage to the organs, including your brain. In some cases, it may be fatal.

Food Safety Laws in Ohio

The Ohio Department of Health has a detailed system of rules and regulations designed to keep your food safe. That includes protocols for cooking meat to the temperatures required to kill off harmful bacteria, protocols for keeping raw and cooked foods separate, protocols for storing food at proper temperatures and in appropriate containers, protocols for sanitizing equipment, utensils, and plates, and more.

Inspectors check restaurants regularly (at least once a year) to ensure that they’re following these protocols. Those inspections are graded – that’s the letter grade you see in the window of a restaurant. The inspector checks the dining area, kitchen, and storage areas to ensure that proper food safety protocols are being followed. Violations may be either critical or non-critical. Critical violations are particularly dangerous and may include obtaining food from an unsafe source, using contaminated equipment, or improperly cooking or washing food. Non-critical violations are more minor and may include dirty floors or failure to adequately tie back hair.

You can check out the inspection reports for your favorite restaurants or file a complaint about a potential health issue here.

Suing Restaurants for Food Poisoning

Restaurants have a legal duty to maintain clean, safe premises and serve clean, safe food. If you get food poisoning from something you ate at a restaurant you can file a claim against the restaurant for your injury.

Food poisoning claims are somewhat complicated. You’ll need to show a clear link between your illness and the restaurant. That takes two steps:

1. A formal diagnosis from your doctor.

Your doctor will be able to tell you the cause of your illness – bacterial infection, toxin, mold, or some other contaminant. That will show the court both that you were actually sick and what the cause of the illness was.

Without a link to the restaurant, you won’t have a case. You could have gotten sick in any number of ways, so you’ll need to prove that the restaurant is actually at fault. That proof can come in several ways. It may involve testing your leftovers or other food at the restaurant for the same contaminant. If you suffered a bacterial infection, your doctor may be able to perform a pulsed-field gel electrophoreses (PFGE) test to identify the genetic blueprint of the bacteria that infected you. If the bacteria found at the restaurant have the same genetic signature, that’s strong evidence that the restaurant was the source of the problem. Sick restaurant employees are a common source of contaminants, so they may be tested as well.

An expert tip from Doug Mann

In addition to checking out the restaurant and food itself, you and your attorney may want to investigate further up the supply chain. If suppliers of meat or produce have violated health codes and caused your illness, they may be liable to you as well.

A link may show up in the form of other sick customers. If a number of people got sick in the same way and the only link between them is eating at the same restaurant, that suggests that the restaurant is at fault. Check online for reports about people who have suffered from food poisoning in your area. In some cases, such as where a large manufacturer or supplier is the source of the contaminant, large numbers of people may get sick. That makes your individual case stronger and may also lead to a class action or mass tort suit.

Should you sue?

So, you can sue a restaurant for giving you food poisoning. That doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. Any lawsuit is time-consuming and can be expensive, so you’ll need to evaluate whether it’s worth it to pursue your claim. If you win, you’ll be able to recover damages for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other costs associated with your illness. If the court finds that the restaurant acted with gross negligence, you may also be entitled to “punitive” damages. Punitive damages are not linked to a cost that you incurred; they’re just a punishment for the restaurant. Gross negligence may occur where a restaurant has been notified of health code violations but has failed to act, where a restaurant knew an employee was sick but failed to send that employee home, or in other instances where the restaurant knowingly put the health of its patrons at risk.

What should you do?

If you believe you’re suffering from food poisoning, you should seek medical attention. Some food poisoning is minor, but other types may cause serious and permanent damage. Your doctor can also identify the cause of your illness, which you’ll need if you decide to file a suit. Then, you should contact an experienced local personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The evidence for a food poisoning case is, by its nature, short-lived. The sooner you can start gathering evidence, the better. In addition, the law limits the amount of time you have to file a claim.

Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys. We can help you evaluate the strength of your claim and decided whether pursuing the claim in court is right for you.

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