Each year, 48 million people in the U.S. become sick from food-borne illnesses (1). Last year, 42 percent of food poisoning cases were due to food eaten in restaurants, take-out spots, cafeterias, and delicatessens. This compares to 21 percent of cases due to food eaten at home.
Restaurant food poisoning can result in symptoms ranging from mild stomach upset, to nausea, vomiting, and even death.
Common causes of restaurant food poisoning:
This occurs when a restaurant prepares several different types of food at one time in the same area. Fresh, healthy food can be tainted by contaminated food prepared alongside it, or from particles and juices left over from spoiled food.
Poorly regulated food temperature
Many foods must be constantly moved in and out of the refrigerator, which causes temperature changes in the food coming in and out. Bacteria can develop and spread quickly if food is not kept at appropriate temperatures.
Poor employee hygiene
When employees don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, bacteria can spread to the food they serve. Often, the employee handling your food is the same one handling the money, which carries germs, bacteria, and other harmful agents.
Sick employees who continue to work
Food preparers and servers often continue working while sick. Some employers will ignore the illness, or even refuse to give the employee time off to rest and recover. When a contagious employee comes in contact with you or your food, it’s likely you will also get sick.
The Law and Restaurant Food Poisoning
Each state has its own safety and health regulations governing restaurants and other commercial food establishments. These rules are enforced by board of health agents who make unannounced visits to see if the restaurant is in compliance. They check for general cleanliness, refrigeration levels, cross-contamination, and more.
Failure to follow health regulations can result in stiff fines for the restaurant, and even closure. The fines go into the respective city or state’s coffers, usually into a general fund, and not to victims of food poisoning.
The courts place upon restaurants a legal duty of care to do everything within reason to protect their patrons from undue harm. When the restaurant fails in its legal duty, and a patron is injured, the restaurant becomes liable for the injuries and resulting damages.
Proving Your Injuries
Medical and biological testing
If you’ve been the victim of restaurant food poisoning, seek medical care immediately. Your doctor must diagnose you with food poisoning, and identify the type of bacteria or virus that caused your illness. The most common pathogens include:
- E. coli
To identify the pathogen, your doctor may order a PFGE test (Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis), which can help trace a pathogen back to a specific restaurant.
For example, if 15 people go to the ER with food poisoning after eating at a specific restaurant, using the PFGE test on all 15 people can result in a prima facie case (taken at face value) against the restaurant. The fact that 15 people who ate at the same place, at about the same time, contracted an identical pathogen, is evidence enough to prove an injury claim with certainty.
Save the food and its packaging!
Bacteria can be identified through a series of microbiological tests (MBL) on food, food containers, food wrappings, utensils, and other objects which may have come in contact with contaminated food.
Proving you were at the restaurant at or about the time you contracted food poisoning is important. Speak with any potential witnesses who dined with you. Ask them to confirm in writing that they were at the restaurant with you on the date you contracted food poisoning, and if they also got ill. Have them sign and date their statements.
Verify lost wages
If you had to miss work while treating and recovering from your illness, have your employer write (on company letterhead) the dates and times you were absent from work, and the amount of income you lost as a result.
Medical records, bills, and expense receipts
If you were hospitalized due to the severity of your symptoms, ask for copies of your admitting charts, doctors’ narratives, and all other medical information related to your treatment. If you were treated by your own primary care doctor, be sure to get copies of those medical records as well.
Also make copies of all your medical bills and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses. These can include doctor visit copays, prescription and over-the-counter medication charges, costs of transportation to and from treatment, and any other costs related to your medical treatment and recovery.
The Role of Attorneys
The severity of your food poisoning will determine if you need a personal injury attorney. If your symptoms were minor, including mild diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, and only lasted a day or two, you may not need an attorney.
Contact the restaurant and tell the owner and manager about your food poisoning. Present copies of your meal receipt, medical bills, and out-of-pocket expenses. Also bring your other evidence, such as witness statements and proof of lost wages. Do not turn over copies of your medical records or they will become public.
Other patrons may have reported food poisoning on the same date. If so, it will make your claim more credible.
Tell the owner or manager you want compensation not only for your medical bills and expenses, but for your pain and suffering as well. If the restaurant won’t cooperate, you can try filing your injury claim in small claims court.
If your symptoms were serious enough to require emergency room treatment, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to handle your case. If you try to settle a serious injury claim yourself, you probably won’t get the compensation you deserve.
Attorneys can file lawsuits, take depositions, issue subpoenas, and more. If your case is supported by the evidence, the restaurant will likely offer your attorney a fair settlement. If not, a jury may award even more in their verdict.
Most personal injury attorneys don’t charge for initial office consultations. Make appointments with several attorneys in your area. Try to find a few with experience handling cases of restaurant food poisoning. The attorneys will review your evidence, discuss your chances of winning, and give an estimate of how much your case is worth.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Visitor Questions on Restaurant Food Poisoning
Under cooked eggs sent me to the emergency room… I purchased a meal along with other guests at a local restaurant. The meal took an unreasonable length of time to be prepared. My meal included eggs, which I always eat fully cooked. When my meal arrived, the eggs were not fully cooked. The center was raw. I began to feel a small discomfort in... Read More >>
Broken teeth on fish tacos at Annapolis, MD seafood place… I ordered an appetizer of fish tacos while sitting at the bar. I had ordered just one drink. Upon my first bite, I commented to the bartender it tasted a bit gritty. I took a second bite and still tasted grit, so I asked the couple next to me if they noticed grit in their... Read More >>
Rocks in my french fries? On April 10th I was eating at a chain burger restaurant. I ate a french fry and bit down on something hard. When I spit it out I saw it was a rock. There were actually rocks in my mouth and in the rest of the fries! I immediately took it into the manager and... Read More >>
Lost a tooth from biting into a piece of hard shell in a clam cake… I was at a restaurant eating clam cakes. I bit into the clam cake and there was a very hard shell that ended up cracking my tooth down to the root. I told the waitress and the store manager about it, gave them the shell to look at and tried to shake it off. I... Read More >>
Piece of wire in chinese food cracked my molar! I ordered Chinese Food yesterday (Orange Chicken). They refused to deliver unless my order was over $12, so I ordered 2 dinners, one to have that night and one the next. In the second to last bite of the chicken tonight, I felt a ‘crunch” in my back tooth. I thought, “oh no, a bone.”... Read More >>
Food Poisoning After Restaurant Served Raw Chicken… My daughter and I ate at a national chain restaurant only a few hours ago. I ordered her the chicken tenders and when they arrived they didn’t look the normal color, but I was a bit preoccupied with my meal and didn’t think much of it. Several bites into her meal I took a bite... Read More >>
Mouth Injured by Plastic in My Food… One of my friends bought a California type roll and we were eating it together. After few bites I felt something in my mouth and got hurt by it. When I spit it out, I saw it was a sharp piece of plastic. Obviously it was from the to-go food that my friend brought. We... Read More >>
Broken Tooth in a Restaurant… I was eating a salad and my tooth broke when I bit down on a crouton. The crouton was much harder than a normal crouton should be. Is the restaurant liable for my injury? Is there anything I can do? Read More >>
Broken Tooth from Glass in Hamburger… While eating a hamburger at a local restaurant I bit down on a 3″ piece of broken glass that was inside the sandwich. I broke a back molar and required a crown to repair the damage. My dental costs are $1,300 plus several dental visits over a 4 week period. What should I do to... Read More >>
Children Served Ice Cream Containing Alcohol… I took my children to a local ice cream parlor and my 8yr old ordered white chocolate ice cream with gummy bears. She went outside and began to eat the gummy bears and then the ice cream. She came back inside and stated that she didn’t want it because it was nasty. My son said... Read More >>
Settlement for Biting Into Glass at a Restaurant? I was at restaurant eating and I bit into a piece of glass a little less than an inch long. I called for our waitress and she notified the acting manager. I took a picture of the glass and he gave us our meals. They also made an incident report. The manager asked if I... Read More >>
Bloody Chicken Sandwich… On November 2, my family and I went to a local fast food chain restaurant. We ordered two combo meals and a single chicken sandwich. While eating our meals, my husband bit into his sandwich when we noticed blood in it. My husband immediately spit out his food and began to vomit. I took all... Read More >>