Foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogens including bacteria in food that is:
- Mishandled; or
The pathogens were often acquired by the food because it was improperly:
- Stored; or
In addition, pathogens may be found on dishes and silverware. A foodborne pathogen is known as such because food is often how the bacteria are transferred to an individual.
When an individual consumes foodborne pathogens, they may experience symptoms, including:
- Gastrointestinal disorder;
- Infection; and
- Loss of weight.
Foodborne illnesses may also lead to long-term medical conditions and illnesses, including:
- Stomach conditions;
- Digestive conditions; and
- Other issues which affect the organs.
What is a Foodborne Illness?
The phrase food borne illness refers to numerous different illnesses which are caused by eating food which has been contaminated as a result of a foodborne pathogen. Foodborne illness may also be referred to as food poisoning.
To help prevent widespread foodborne illness issues, each state enforces various regulatory measures regarding food products, which includes how they are:
- Shipped; and
In many cases, foodborne illness lawsuits are filed as class action lawsuits if many different individuals are affected by the same issue or product.
What Causes Food Borne Illness?
There are numerous different types of food poisoning and many different sources of foodborne illnesses. The cause of these types of illnesses can be traced to:
- Viruses and bacteria, such as E. Coli or Salmonella;
- Improper preparation, handling, or storage of food, for example during homebrewing;
- Chemical toxins which are present in the food, for example, high levels of mercury;
- Natural toxins present in food, such as toxins from mold or poisonous mushrooms; and
- A mixture of other causes.
Foodborne illnesses may be spread by:
- Not cooking food properly;
- Not storing the food at the proper temperature; and
- Cross-contamination with other foods.
Cross-contamination may occur, for example, when salad greens are cut on a cutting board which was previously used to cut raw chicken and the board was not washed in between. There are some individuals, such as children and the elderly, with weaker immune systems who are more susceptible to developing complications from foodborne illnesses.
In some cases, the symptoms may be attributed to the consumer’s allergy to a common type of food. In these cases, it may be necessary to consult with a legal professional or medical professional in order to determine what actually caused the illness and which parties may be held liable for the injuries.
What is the Difference Between Food Contamination and Food Poisoning?
Although food contamination and food poisoning are related, they are slightly different. Food contamination refers to a foreign object in the food, such as bacteria or hair.
Foodborne illness, or food poisoning refers to an illness which occurs either due to contaminated food or because the food was improperly handled in some way.
For example, if a piece of meat was improperly cooked or a pot of soup was held at an improper temperature, it may allow for the growth of bacteria which results in foodborne illness.
Can I Sue if I Became Sick Because of Contaminated Food?
The individual or entity that caused the pathogens to be present in the food, on the plate, or on the cutlery can often be held liable under the legal theory of negligence. To prove negligence, a plaintiff is required to show all of the following elements:
- The defendant had a duty to the plaintiff not to harm them, such as following restaurant food safety laws;
- The defendant breached that by serving contaminated food to the plaintiff;
- The defendant was both the actual cause and the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and
- The plaintiff suffered an injury that led to damages, such as medical bills and lost wages.
Who Can I Sue for Causing My Foodborne Illness?
In many cases, food products change hands numerous times prior to being served to a consumer. Because of this, there are many parties which may be held liable, including:
- The entity that provided the food, such as a restaurant or a catering company;
- The staff of the food provider, which may include cooks and waiters;
- Food manufacturers and distributors;
- Food suppliers;
- Food shippers; and
- Restaurant public health inspectors.
In certain cases, an entire establishment may be sued if their policies or practices are not up to the proper standards. Determining what party can be held liable is likely the most difficult part of a foodborne lawsuit.
An individual is more likely to succeed in their claim if they are able to prove that a party was aware of the contamination, or should have been aware of the contamination, and did not take any steps to protect the consumer.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
If numerous individuals become sick as a result of the same foodborne pathogen, it may be possible to file a class action lawsuit for the benefit of all of the individuals. A class action lawsuit is one that is filed on behalf of a group of individuals who suffer the same or similar types of harm.
For example, if the group of affected individuals, referred to as a class, become ill after consuming the same food product, they may be able to sue as a unit.
What are the Remedies in a Foodborne Pathogen Lawsuit?
Depending upon the type of injuries and the facts and circumstances surrounding each individual case, there are various remedies which may be available as a result of a foodborne illness or foodborne pathogen lawsuit. The remedies which may be available include:
- Monetary damages to compensate the injured individual for financial losses;
- Product recalls of the affected food; and
- Loss of operating licenses for the restaurant or food business.
Compensatory damages may also be awarded in these types of cases, which are intended to compensate an individual for a range of issues, from cost of hospitalization, loss of income due to being ill, and cost of medication.
In certain rare cases, a food company may continue to produce and sell a product which is tainted when they are aware of the issue. This typically occurs because the cost of a recall is too high or they incorrectly believe that the amount of tainted product in a batch is not very high.
If this occurs, a court has the ability to punish a defendant using punitive damages. Plaintiffs may request punitive damages and it is up to the discretion of the court whether to award them.
Should I Talk to a Lawyer if I have been Injured by a Foodborne Pathogen?
If you or a loved one has become seriously ill as a result of consuming foods which contain a foodborne pathogen, it may have a serious impact on your life and theirs. These types of illnesses can cause you to miss days at work or, in severe cases, be hospitalized.
It may be helpful to consult with a personal injury lawyer regarding filing a lawsuit on your behalf to pursue compensation for the losses that resulted from the foodborne pathogen. This is especially true if the pathogen has caused you to suffer a long-term illness.
Your lawyer can advise you regarding the laws and regulations in your state related to food preparation and sale. If you do file a lawsuit and are required to appear in court, your lawyer will represent you.