In the broad sense, yes, a restaurant has a moral and, to a certain extent, a legal duty to aid a choking customer. Restaurants are expected to provide a safe environment for their customers.
While they cannot control every possible risk, they should respond appropriately to emergencies. If a customer begins to choke while on the premises of the business, employees should immediately call emergency services and, if they are trained to do so, provide first aid.
However, there is no uniform law in the United States that explicitly requires restaurant employees to assist a choking customer or be trained in first aid, such as the Heimlich maneuver.
Will the Restaurant Be Held Liable for a Choking Incident?
Determining liability in a choking incident can be complicated. As per general negligence principles, the restaurant may be held liable if it can be proven that they were somehow negligent and that their negligence directly caused or contributed to the restaurant injury/choking incident.
For example, if the restaurant served food improperly prepared or improperly cut, especially if it was known that a certain customer was at a higher risk of choking, there could potentially be grounds for a lawsuit.
Let’s take the case of a restaurant that serves steak. Steak, if not properly cut or chewed, can present a choking hazard. Now, if the restaurant serves a piece of steak that is improperly cut into unusually large or tough pieces, and a customer chokes on it, the restaurant could potentially be held liable. The case for liability would be stronger if the customer informed the restaurant of difficulties swallowing or a need for smaller pieces, and the restaurant failed to accommodate this request.
However, if the choking incident was truly an accident and the restaurant took reasonable steps to prevent it and correctly responded once it happened, they may not be found liable. Let’s assume a customer chokes on a piece of steak that is normally cut and generally considered safe to eat.
The restaurant staff responds promptly:
- They call emergency services immediately.
- A staff member who is trained in the Heimlich maneuver attempts to aid the customer.
- They clear the area to allow professionals to provide help when they arrive.
In this scenario, the restaurant has taken reasonable steps to prevent the choking incident – by serving food in a generally safe manner – and responded appropriately once the incident occurred. It’s harder to argue negligence in this situation because the choking incident appears to be more of an unfortunate accident than a result of any improper action by the restaurant. Thus, they may not be found liable.
Good Samaritan Laws
Many states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who offer aid in emergency situations from being sued for unintentional harm caused while attempting to help.
Good Samaritan laws are laws that offer legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those they believe to be injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. The purpose of these laws is to encourage people to offer assistance in emergency situations without fear of legal repercussions should their aid inadvertently cause harm.
In the context of a restaurant choking incident, Good Samaritan laws might protect a restaurant employee who attempts to help a choking customer. If, for instance, the employee is trained in first aid and performs the Heimlich maneuver but accidentally causes a rib fracture, Good Samaritan laws would typically protect the employee from being sued for that injury.
However, the application of Good Samaritan laws varies widely by state in the U.S., including who is covered by the law and what constitutes “reasonable” assistance. Some states limit protections to medically trained personnel, while others extend it to any layperson offering aid in an emergency. Some states might not extend Good Samaritan protections to restaurant employees as part of their professional duties, whereas others may. These laws generally do not protect people who provide care recklessly or intentionally cause harm.
Should Restaurant Employees Receive First Aid Training?
First aid training for restaurant employees is not just about teaching them how to respond to a choking incident; it’s about fostering a culture of safety and preparedness that extends to all areas of the restaurant’s operations. A well-trained team can address minor injuries, prevent small issues from escalating into major ones, and respond effectively to emergency situations, creating a safer environment for both staff and patrons.
Such training is particularly important in the restaurant industry, which is a high-stress environment with inherent safety risks. Burns, cuts, slips, falls, and food allergies are some of the other potential hazards in a restaurant setting. Trained staff can respond quickly and appropriately to these situations, reducing the severity of injuries and possibly even saving lives.
Additionally, first aid training can instill a greater sense of responsibility and awareness in employees. It can make them more cognizant of safety in their daily tasks, thereby reducing the likelihood of accidents. This could mean being more careful when handling sharp knives, being more diligent in cleaning up spills to prevent falls, or being more attentive to specific dietary requests from customers to prevent allergic reactions.
From a legal standpoint, although not universally required, having a team trained in first aid can potentially reduce the restaurant’s liability. Should an incident occur, the fact that the establishment took proactive steps to prepare for emergencies could be seen favorably in any subsequent legal proceedings. It shows due diligence and a commitment to customer safety, which could serve as a defense against claims of negligence.
Public Relations and Customer Perception
Aside from the obvious safety benefits, offering first aid training to employees can also be an asset from a public relations perspective. Customers often base their dining choices not just on the quality of the food but also on the overall experience and perceived care for patrons.
A restaurant known for its well-trained staff might be viewed as a safer and more responsible choice. Customers with health conditions, elderly customers, or families with young children could be very drawn to this. It creates an image of a restaurant that not only serves great food but also genuinely cares for its customer’s well-being.
Additionally, in an age of online reviews and social media, the way a restaurant handles an incident can significantly impact its reputation. A positive story about staff efficiently and effectively handling an emergency could lead to favorable reviews and good word-of-mouth, both of which are incredibly valuable in the hospitality industry.
In case of an unfortunate incident, being able to demonstrate that every reasonable step was taken to ensure customer safety can help limit damage to the restaurant’s reputation. Demonstrating that the restaurant prioritized first aid training could show commitment to customer safety, potentially mitigating negative press.
Should I Seek an Attorney?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a choking incident at a restaurant, it may be beneficial to consult with an attorney. A personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights, evaluate the strength of your case, and guide you through the legal process.
Through LegalMatch, you can easily find a skilled attorney who has experience in personal injury cases. LegalMatch uses a unique legal matching service to connect you with pre-screened, qualified attorneys in your area. If you have questions or need legal assistance, consider using LegalMatch to find the right attorney for your case.