The chances of succeeding in a case against a restaurant based on a claim for finding bugs or insects in your food is relatively low. These types of cases are usually more trouble than they are worth since they often cost more to prepare than what the plaintiff ends up receiving in damages.
Another reason why these cases are so unsuccessful is because finding a bug in your food generally does not make you physically ill. It is different than if you got food poisoning or some kind of food borne illness, which both have serious symptoms and can result in life-threatening harm.
Although finding an insect in your food may be upsetting, it is very difficult to get compensation for emotional distress since emotional injuries are much harder to prove. This is generally what your claim would be based on for seeing an insect in your food.
Instead, a restaurant patron should consider writing an “insect in food complaint letter” directly to the restaurant or state health department. It is much easier and they may get faster results (e.g., having the restaurant shut down). Also, aside from postage, sending a letter is free. Plus, most businesses have an email address that you can use to submit the letter as well.
What if I Suffer Emotional Distress from Seeing an Insect in My Food?
Emotional distress refers to the emotional response a person has to a painful or upsetting experience. In tort law, there are two different types of actions that a person can sue for under the concept of emotional distress: intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
For an insect in food complaint, it is more likely that the person will base their claim on intentional infliction of emotional distress. This means that the person will have to show that the restaurant intentionally or recklessly behaved in a manner that was so “extreme and outrageous” that it caused them severe emotional distress. The person will also have to show that they should be allowed to recover damages for being subjected to such conduct.
As an example, suppose a diner saw a bug in their food right as they were about to eat it. They would have to prove that they deserve to get compensation because they were so severely distressed by seeing it. They would also have to show that the restaurant behaved in the manner described above.
This can be quite a challenge when most times the bug simply crawled into the food before it was served and no one caught it. No restaurant would willingly want to lose its customers.
What if I Actually Become Sick from a Bug in My Food?
A person may be able to sue if they actually become ill from finding an insect in their food. Although having physical symptoms might be easier to prove than emotional ones, the person will still have to show the following elements:
- That there was an insect in the food at the restaurant;
- They become ill after eating the food and the food was eaten before they discovered the insect; and
- That the insect was the only thing that caused them to be sick (e.g., being sick beforehand or eating bad food earlier in the day will not count).
Again, physical symptoms are much easier to prove than emotional ones, but it is not common for a person to get sick from an insect. The insect would have to be somewhat specific and known to poison or cause illness in people who ingest them, or must be a type that is often associated with foods (e.g., blister beetles found in salads).
Can I Sue If I Found a Roach in My Food?
Finding a fly in food at a restaurant may be one thing, but when a person discovers a roach in their food, then they might have a more viable claim. Flies are generally harmless and restaurants usually cannot control if one found its way into say a water glass or on a plate; so long as it is not a regular occurrence and there are not dozens flying throughout the venue.
Roaches, however, may mean that there is an infestation in the kitchen and the food might be contaminated. State and local health departments provide guidelines on when too many bugs equals a violation and the types of bugs that are direct violations of food safety codes.
There is also a difference whether a person actually consumed the insect or simply saw it. Again, seeing one may be upsetting, but that will not normally give cause to file an action for damages. Eating one on the other hand might cause a person to become seriously ill, however, they will have to be able to show the elements of proof listed in the above section before they can collect any damages.
What Should I Do If I Find a Bug in My Food, to Help My Possible Lawsuit?
When an individual comes across an insect in their food while dining at a restaurant, they should immediately alert their server and document the evidence (e.g., take photos or videos of the incident before the plate is taken away; get contact information from witnesses, etc.). The diner should also keep their receipt or any other documentation that shows proof of purchase.
Although it is unlikely that a person will become ill from the insect, they may want to seek medical attention if symptoms do occur. If a hospital or doctor does find that the symptoms were directly caused by the insect, then the person should request copies of the medical results and any relevant health records.
Lastly, the person should try and find out whether other customers got sick or found insects in their food. Multiple incidents can help strengthen a case because it shows that it was not just a one-time incident. This also may alert health inspectors to conduct an investigation because the restaurant may be in violation of the state or local health code. If they are in violation, then the restaurant can be shut down.
What Can I Do, Alternatively, If I Have Only Experienced Emotional Distress?
It is highly unlikely that a case in which the harm is solely based on emotional distress will succeed. Thus, to avoid various legal costs and attorney fees, the individual may want to consider filing an action themselves with their local small claims court. There, the small claims court can determine whether there is any possibility for recovery.
Alternatively, as discussed above, a person may also file a complaint with their state or local health department. Other options include reporting the restaurant to the Better Business Bureau, leaving a negative comment on social media or restaurant review websites, and boycotting the establishment.
Lastly, if it is possible, the person should also ask that their server or a restaurant manager reimburse them for their meal.
How Do I File a Complaint If I Find Insects in Food at a Restaurant?
After the individual has gathered evidence documenting the incident, they will need to decide whether they want to sue the restaurant. The best way for someone to determine whether they have a supportable claim is to contact a personal injury lawyer for advice.
If the lawyer finds they do have a supportable claim, then they will be able to discuss legal strategies and can help the individual prepare and file their case. However, it should be noted that the average personal injury lawsuit can take at least 2 years to fully resolve.
Similar to other court cases, the lawyer will file a document called the complaint with the court. The complaint sets out the issues and the damages being requested to remedy the harm. If the court decides to allow the case to continue and it does not get dismissed, the parties will proceed through different phases of litigation, including pretrial discovery. Discovery can often be the longest phase of a court case.
At discovery, the parties can discuss whether they want to go to trial, settle, or use a method of alternative dispute resolution (e.g., arbitration). If they choose to go to trial, the trial itself will generally only last several days, but this will largely depend on the circumstances of each case. After the court issues a decision, the parties may then appeal.
On the other hand, if the lawyer finds that they do not have a claim, then they may be able to suggest other options for relief. At the very least, having a lawyer ensures that the person will not waste time and money filing a lawsuit that cannot be won.
Finally, as discussed above, a person can also file a complaint with their local or state health department. Again, these agencies conduct investigations to ensure that the restaurant is complying with the requirements of their state or local health code. A restaurant can be fined or shut down due to health code violations.
Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for Help with a Restaurant Complaint?
It can be very difficult to pursue legal action against a restaurant based on a claim involving insects in your food. Moreover, the odds of receiving a successful outcome for such a lawsuit are fairly low. Therefore, if you are seeking legal recourse for finding bugs or insects in your food at a restaurant, you should strongly consider consulting a local personal injury lawyer for further guidance.
Your lawyer will be able to determine whether you have a supportable claim against the restaurant, and if so, can help you prepare and file a case. Your lawyer can also assist you with gathering evidence, creating a solid argument, and collecting damages. Finally, a lawyer can represent you in court if necessary, or negotiate on your behalf during a settlement conference with the restaurant.