Food contamination leads to approximately 76 million cases of food poisoning in the United States each year. Of these, over 325,000 victims are hospitalized and over 5,000 cases are fatal. There are many different types of food contamination. Some are spread from food workers to consumers, and many are the result of improper handling, preparation, undercooking, or failure to dispose of expired products.
Therefore, proving a personal injury claim based on food poisoning can involve several different parties, such as manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of food products. With regards to restaurant food poisoning, liability may be traced to numerous persons, including the restaurant owner/manager, cooks, chefs, waiters, and other personnel.
Some effects of food contamination include: vomiting, nausea, upset stomach, dizziness, and other similar symptoms. Long-term injuries can also occur, including injuries to the stomach and other organs, internal bleeding or scarring, severe weight loss, and other serious conditions.
What are Some Examples of Food Contamination Claims?
There are numerous types of food contamination mechanisms. These can sometimes depend on several factors, including the type of food involved, and methods of preparation. Some common food contaminants may include:
- Bacteria and viruses that can cause food-borne illnesses but some of the most common include: salmonella, E.coli infection, and botulism;
- Toxic materials that have leaked into the food (such as toxic dyes or paints from packaging);
- Toxins that develop in a more organic way, such as those that develop when the food becomes expired, or from exposure to animals and animal waste; and
- Physical objects or other foreign objects in the food.
One aspect of food contamination claims is that there is a potential for a great number of people to get hurt or sick from the food. This can happen especially when food is produced in mass quantities and distributed to food outlets or groceries. In such cases, a large class action lawsuit may follow in light of the injuries.
Who Can Be Liable for Contaminated Foods?
Because many steps are involved in getting a specific food item from the farm to your plate, many different actors can face liability if the food injuries someone. To complicate things, some actors can be liable under different legal theories including negligence, strict liability, defective product liability, and breach of warranty. In general, the actors who can be liable for contaminated foods are:
- Farmers, under negligence or defective product liability;
- Growers, under negligence or defective product liability;
- Shippers, under negligence or defective product liability;
- Packagers, under negligence or defective product liability; or
- Sellers or distributors, under strict liability or breach of warranty.
Do I Have a Claim for Food Contamination?
If you are harmed from consuming contaminated food, you may have a product liability claim. To succeed in your claim, you must show:
- The actor grew or shipped the contaminated food;
- You consumed the contaminated food;
- You suffered some symptoms or illness after consuming the contaminated food;
- You received a diagnosis from a doctor linking the symptoms to consuming contaminated food;
- The time you felt your symptoms or illness is consistent with the time of consuming the contaminated food; and
- The actor caused the contamination or failed to use reasonable care to prevent it.
In addition to these required elements, it can be helpful to your case if you can also demonstrate:
- Your illness was diagnosed by a doctor as being caused by a particular bacteria, virus, or toxin;
- The contaminated food was found to harbor such bacteria, virus, or toxin; and
- The symptoms or illness is consistent with consuming the bacteria, virus, or toxin.
What are the Legal Remedies for a Contaminated Foods Claims?
Contaminated food injuries can lead to various losses for the injured person. The person may need to hospitalization to recover, and may miss some of their work in order to recover. They may also suffer from permanent, long-term damage in some cases. The legal remedies in a contaminated foods lawsuit usually involve a monetary damages award. This will usually provide compensation for:
- Medical bills;
- Lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Long-term effects or medical conditions; and/or
- Loss of the ability to generate income in the future.
As mentioned, class action lawsuits may be filed if large numbers of people have been injured. Product recalls can also be issued for products that still need to be removed from store shelves.
Do I Need a Lawyer Specializing in Food-borne Illnesses?
If you think that you have suffered food poisoning, seek immediate medical attention and then consult a local products and services attorney or a personal injury attorney. Food poisoning cases can be difficult to litigate because the chain of events leading up to the illness and causation are hard to establish. An experienced products liability lawyer can help you recover costs associated with the poisoning, such as lost wages and medical expenses.