Restaurants and other places that sell food to consumers in Nevada are subject to a broad range of regulations designed to protect the public from illness and other problems. A customer who suffers a serious illness as a consequence of a restaurant’s failure to follow food regulations may have an ability to sue the restaurant to recover compensation for medical bills and other expenses related to the illness.
Scope of regulatory coverage
The Southern Nevada Health District adopts food and other health regulations that apply in Las Vegas and the rest of Clark County. The regulations apply to any “food establishment,” which is defined as “an operation at a particular location that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption.” The definition includes restaurants, catering services, and food markets. “Food” is defined to include raw, cooked, or processed edible substances, ice, beverages, or ingredients that can be used for human consumption.
Establishments that fall within the definition of “food establishment” must hold a permit to sell food products to consumers. NRS 446.870. There are a range of exceptions to the definition of “food establishment,” including private homes, social clubs, religious and charitable establishments that serve food in occasional fundraisers (i.e., bake sales and pancake breakfasts). The Health District is also authorized to exempt establishments that it determines do not pose a hazard to public health.
What food establishments must do
Capturing the full scope of food safety regulations is naturally beyond the scope of this short introduction. But here are some examples that give a sense of the obligations that come with selling food to the public:
- Many types of regulated food establishments must prepare a sanitation plan as part of their permitting process. Compliance with the approved plan is a central part of maintaining an establishment’s permit.
- Equipment and surfaces that will come in contact with food must be kept “clean to sight and touch,” and must be regularly cleaned and sanitized.
- Utensils that will be used to prepare food or by consumers must be kept sanitary according to the guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute.
- Food must be properly labeled while in storage and offered to consumers in a way that does not mislead them about the contents, quality, or other details of the food.
Enforcement and private lawsuits
Food regulations are enforced by the Health District. Violations of food safety laws and regulations are misdemeanors—that is, they are subject to enforcement through the criminal justice system. In practice this means that a consumer on their own can’t sue a restaurant for regulatory violations.
However, the violation of safety regulations can be a critical fact in a civil lawsuit. The fact that a regulation has been breached can be used by a consumer to show that the food establishment was negligent, a key component of recovering compensation. Such cases will require careful consideration of the available facts. For example, a plaintiff that seeks to prove that an establishment wasn’t complying with its sanitation obligations will need to prove that fact in court. The plaintiff will also need to show that the violation of regulations caused the plaintiff’s illness. A likely defense a restaurant will raise is that the illness may have been caused by something other than the restaurant’s inadequate sanitation.
Talk to an attorney about foodborne illness
The challenges of suing a restaurant for failing to follow good sanitation practices should not discourage an injured consumer from exploring legal options. For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases. If you have suffered a serious illness from a restaurant’s food, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.