The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes is transmitted to humans through food products, such as processed meats, fresh produce and dairy products made with unpasteurized milk. Infection with Listeria is a type of food poisoning.

Infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria is known as “listeriosis”. The symptoms are as follows:

  • A stiff neck;
  • Headache;
  • Confusion;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Gastrointestinal distress;
  • Muscle aches.

The illness can become severe, and potentially life-threatening, when the bacteria spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and the nervous system, possibly causing meningitis, septicemia, pneumonia, and other complications. Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain. In pregnant women, the illness may lead to miscarriages, premature deliveries, stillbirths, or Listeria infections in the newborn. Doctors use a blood test to diagnose lIsteria. It is treatable with antibiotic treatment. The antibiotic, ampicillin, is most often used to treat listeriosis.

Listeriosis can be prevented by observing hygiene when preparing food and avoiding foods that present a high risk of contamination. For example, raw meats and vegetables should be thoroughly cooked. However, the bacteria is most commonly found in soft cheeses, pates, smoked fish and dairy products made with unpasteurized milk. Large numbers of people can become sick when processed foods are contaminated with the bacteria during the manufacturing and packaging processes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die, because listeriosis can be fatal. Listeria most often strikes pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Those who suffer from AIDS are also more likely to be affected by listeriosis than are healthy adults.

Outbreaks of Listeria infections in the 1990s were mostly linked to processed deli meats and hot dogs. But recent Listeria outbreaks have often been linked to dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Investigators have traced recent outbreaks to soft cheeses, yogurt and other dairy products made from unpasteurized milk, celery, sprouts, and cantaloupe.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Listeria Infection Injuries?

Lawsuits are most likely to be filed after a contaminated product leads to widespread illness in consumers of the product. To win a personal injury case for illness from contaminated food, a person would, of course, need to prove that their illness and injury was caused by consuming a contaminated food product.

Several different entities are potentially liable for injuries and harm caused by listeriosis. For instance, the manufacturer of food products can be held liable for injuries caused to consumers if their product is defective. This can occur, for example, if they manufacture and then distribute products that are contaminated by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Retail stores that sell food products directly to consumers can sometimes be held liable for injuries to customers caused by food-borne illnesses. An example of this is when the store fails to remove products from shelves that were subject to a listeria recall due to contamination.

Lastly, any entity that is responsible for responding to government recalls of contaminated food may be the basis for a finding of negligence in relation to listeria infections.

Are There Any Legal Remedies for Listeria Injuries?

As mentioned, listeria injuries can be serious and can result in significant injury to consumers. In some cases, lawsuits may be necessary in order for the injured party to recover money damages to compensate victims for their losses.

Per the law of negligence, every business has a duty to exercise reasonable care in its operations. A restaurant’s duty of, “reasonable care” means that the restaurant has a duty to maintain a safe environment, produce safe food and beverage products and eliminate unreasonable dangers.

If a business breaches its duty to its customers, and the breach is the direct cause of injury to customers, the business can be liable for damages. For example, a restaurant breaches if its kitchen practices are insufficiently sanitary and it stores in unsanitary ways. Or, a restaurant might have in its pantry food products that have been subject to recall for listeria contamination, but instead of checking its products for recalls, it uses the product and causes a customer’s listeriosis.

In a negligence case against a store or restaurant for food poisoning, the victim would have to prove that they had listeriosis. In addition, they would have to show how the business was negligent in its handling of the food product and how the negligence was the direct cause of injury to the victim.

Because it could be challenging to prove that the negligence of a business was the direct cause of a customer’s listeriosis, another theory that is available is that of strict product liability. Under this theory, a victim does not have to show that some negligent act of the business resulted in the customer’s listeriosis. Rather, the victim must show only that the food served by the restaurant or bought at the store was defective and unreasonably dangerous. It must also be shown that the defective and unreasonably dangerous food caused the victim’s listeriosis.

Per a strict product liability theory, a business can be found liable simply for selling contaminated food that causes someone’s illness and injury. In fact, everyone in the chain of distribution can be sued, including the grower, manufacturer or processor, wholesale food distributor, and retailer or restaurant.

Under state commercial law, there are implied warranties in the commercial agreements between food growers and distributors and their customers. There is generally an implied warranty that a product conforms to an ordinary buyer’s expectations and is fit for its intended purpose. In the case of a food product, that would mean, of course, that it is fit for consumption and is not going to cause illness and injury.

If contaminated food causes food poisoning, the injured consumer can claim that the food did not conform to the ordinary buyer’s expectation of being sold or served food that is free of harmful contamination. Similar to strict products liability, an implied warranty will follow the food through the chain of distribution, unless it is expressly disclaimed in writing. So, a lawsuit based on a theory of breach of the implied warranty of fitness for its intended purpose is possible, if the purchaser of a food product is injured..

As discussed above, when food poisoning causes illness and injury, damages in a personal injury case for negligence or strict product liability can include the following:

  • All of the costs associated with medical care, including future care if the victim has not recovered completely by the time of trial;
  • Lost income, including future losses if the victim suffers long-term or permanent disability that affects their employment prospects;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses;
  • Pain and suffering, and
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish.

Listeriosis can prove fatal in more than a few cases. If this happens, the immediate family members of the deceased person may be able to file a wrongful death action against the business that is responsible.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Listeria Lawsuit?

Listeria lawsuits can be complex and may involve a number of different legal theories. It may be in your best interests to consult an experienced products and services lawyer in your area, if you have been seriously affected by listeriosis and need help with a listeriosis claim.

Your attorney can analyze the facts of your case and tell you whether you have grounds for a lawsuit. Your lawyer can provide you with expert representation during negotiations and important court processes, including a trial if that should become necessary.