I found something in my food? Can I sue?
First we will address the “Can I sue?” question. Basically, Yes. You can sue anyone over anything. The issue becomes whether you can find an attorney to assist you with your lawsuit or if you can WIN your lawsuit.
Next, let’s talk about damages. In order to have a successful lawsuit, you must first prove damages. Damages usually mean injury or a significant financial loss.
For example, you may have found a hair in the biscuit you picked up from your neighborhood fast food chain. Gross. Or maybe the biscuit wasn’t completely cooked, or maybe it was old and a little moldy. But besides the obvious grossness of these types of questions are, did the hair cause you any injury or significant financial loss? Probably not. Your best bet would be to address the issue directly with the fast food chain and request a refund. Hopefully, you will get an apology along with your refund.
Naturally occurring objects.
Please keep in mind, “naturally occurring objects”, such as a fish bone in a piece of fish, etc. are also considered to be expected in normal food processing.
When you might have a case. Say you get a biscuit from that same neighborhood fast food chain, but instead of finding a hair, you bite down onto a metal screw that fell out of their cooking equipment, and you chip your tooth. Now you have damages. You have an actual physical injury. If something like this occurs, you should immediately notify the fast food chain. Keep all receipts of purchase, along with the food item and the item that you bit down on. You should promptly seek treatment with a health professional and notify them what happened so the cause of injury can be documented in your medical record(s). At this point, you may have cause enough to sue the fast food chain. It is important that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney so they can evaluate your potential claim.
I got food poisoning from a restaurant. Can I sue?
Now let’s say you ate a biscuit from a fast food chain. Everything seemed fine, no hair, no screw, no foreign object, and no naturally occurring object. However, about 3 to 4 days (CDC) later you become violently ill! You are convinced you have food poisoning. But this illness doesn’t go away, and you find yourself at your local Emergency Room seeking treatment. They run several tests and find out you are suffering from E-Coli poisoning. While E-coli poisoning is rarely lethal, you have gotten a severe strain of it, and it has begun to negatively impact your kidneys (Mayo Clinic). You are admitted into the hospital for 5-6 days. You fully recover, however, you received permanent damage to your kidneys and now have to change your lifestyle in order to keep your kidneys healthy and functioning. Now you have injury, AND significant financial loss from your medical expenses.
At this point, you may have cause enough to sue the fast food chain. It is important that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney so they can evaluate your potential claim.
The Tough Conversation.
According the USDA there are over 76 million reported cases of food borne illnesses in the United States, annually. Out of these 76 million reported cases, only 145 cases made it to a jury trial and noted “the awards won by plaintiffs tend to be modest.” The reason why most of these cases never go to trial are because of they fall under what is called Product Liability, and therefore must meet four basic standards:
- Duty: The plaintiff (injured or damaged party) must be able to show that the defendant (fast food chain or restaurant owner) owed a legal duty to the plaintiff under the specific circumstances of the case.
- Breach: The plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant breached said legal duty through specific actions or failing to act appropriately.
- Causation: The plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s actions or lack thereof caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Damages: The plaintiff must be able to show that they endured some specific damages. This can usually be shown through the presentation of medical records, a loss of wages, or a loss of potential income.
Specifically, the reason most lawsuits regarding food borne illnesses fails is that it is virtually impossible to prove that that the food borne illness came from a specific place or food item, and was not contracted anywhere else.
Furthermore, many lawsuits regarding food injuries caused by foreign objects located in the food also fail. More often than not, the food supply company or restaurant will argue that the foreign object was not placed by them, so it is important that you keep the food item, the foreign object, take photographs and have witnesses.
If you find yourself with a food related illness or injury, after receiving the needed medical treatment, you should immediately contact an experienced personal injury or products liability attorney so they can evaluate your potential claim.
However, it is important to keep your expectations reasonable and understand going into the legal lawsuit process, that in all likelihood, as statistics show, your case will not make it to trial, and any settlement monies will not be of significant value.
Contact an Experienced Attorney.
Every case is different. We encourage you to reach out to an attorney, like Trip Walton and his experienced team of attorneys and professionals, in order to properly evaluate your potential personal injury claim.