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Can A Restaurant Be Sued For Foodborne Illness?

Getting sick from eating restaurant food is never nice. In some situations a foodborne illness can be grave enough to involve high costs that might justify a lawsuit. The FDA estimates that foodborne illnesses in the United States result in about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. When an illness leads to significant costs or even death, a lawsuit may be a necessary step to recover compensation.

Tracing the origin of foodborne illness

Determining the source of contamination is a central challenge in cases involving foodborne illness. Bacteria and viruses can be introduced into food at any point in its product lifecycle. Here are some examples:

  • Contaminated soil might stay on plants from farm to plate.
  • Improperly cleaned equipment could spread bacteria at a meat processing plant.
  • A sick restaurant worker could forget to wash his or her hands and spread illness.

For the injured plaintiff, the problem will be proving that the restaurant was the source of the disease. To cast doubt on the restaurant’s liability, the restaurant’s attorneys will undoubtedly scrutinize all the other potential ways the plaintiff may have been exposed to the cause of the disease. Evidence in these cases can be ephemeral, as the plaintiff’s leftovers are tossed into the garbage or composted.

Potential legal theories

Products liability is the most likely legal theory to arise in a foodborne illness case. In Nevada, responsibility for unsafe consumer products rests with every step in the product’s life cycle, from its original manufacturing to its storage and eventual sale. NRS 695E.090. In the case of food, this might include the farm where the food was raised, a processing facility, a warehousing company, a distributor, or the restaurant that prepared and served the food to the plaintiff.

A products liability lawsuit often argues that the defendant was negligent by not exercising reasonable care to prevent the plaintiff’s illness. Examples of negligence might include not properly washing food, not cooking it thoroughly, or not inspecting food for problems. A restaurant that fails to require its employees to wash their hands and take other precautions might also be committing negligence.

Strict products liability is an alternative to negligence. To prevail in a strict liability case, a plaintiff must establish, among other things, that the problem with the food was present at the time it left the defendant’s possession. Strict liability can be difficult to prove unless facts align in the plaintiff’s favor—perhaps other patrons also fell ill and can be identified, or the restaurant failed to comply with a manufacturer’s recall.

In the most tragic cases, a plaintiff may also consider pursuing a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death is also based on negligence. It allows specific types of plaintiffs to seek specific types of damages on behalf of someone who has died as a consequence of the defendant’s negligence.

GGRM can help

For over 40 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has helped clients who have been injured recover the compensation they deserve. If you have been seriously harmed by foodborne illness and need help understanding your legal options, our attorneys are here to help. For a free attorney consultation call us today at 702-388-4476, or send us a request through our site.