According to the U.S. census, today there are more than 500,000 restaurants in the United States. Each day, more than 130 million Americans eat at restaurants. Restaurants are where we go to enjoy good food and have others serve us.
Unfortunately, not all restaurant experiences are pleasurable. Accidents sometimes occur, and when they do, customers are injured. To protect themselves from lawsuits, most restaurants carry liability insurance.
Common causes of restaurant injuries include:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food poisoning is the most frequently reported restaurant injury. Food poisoning is a catchall phrase for various types of bacterial infections. Common restaurant food poisoning infections include:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- E. coli enteritis
- Campylobacter enteritis
- Fish poisoning
According to the CDC, there are more than 70 million cases of one form or another of food poisoning each year. Many other cases go unreported because infected customers aren’t aware food poisoning caused their illnesses, and failed to seek medical attention. Food poisoning can cause uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. If left untreated, food poisoning can lead to brain damage and even death.
The bacteria that cause food poisoning can enter your body by several means. The most common are through meat and poultry not kept at a proper temperature. Other food products like mayonnaise that isn’t refrigerated properly also cause illness. Food can also come in contact with other bacteria in water tainted by human waste, or unclean cook and waiters’ hands.
Slip and Falls
You’re a lot more likely to slip and fallin a fast food restaurant than in a more formal restaurant setting. Fast food restaurants serve as many customers as possible in the shortest amount of time. As a result, spilled drinks and food on the floor are common.
When the waiter says, “Be careful, the plate is hot!” he usually means it. Restaurant food is usually served at 120 to 130 degrees and sometimes higher. Hot food or coffee at 140 degrees can give third-degree burns to a customer’s skin in seconds. Even lower temperature burns are quite painful.
Breaking a tooth while eating at a restaurant is not only painful, but can also result in embarrassment and minor disfigurement. Depending upon which tooth it is, and the size of the break, a customer may have to spend thousands of dollars for tooth replacement, porcelain veneers, or other remedial dentistry. Customers can break their teeth on shards of glass or plastic in their salads, and even on hard almonds in ice cream.
According to the National Restaurant Council, more than 3,000 people die each year from choking while dining at restaurants. Choking can occur for a variety of reasons. While speaking or laughing, food can bypass the throat and lodge in a customer’s windpipe. Customers can also choke on bones left in supposedly deboned fish, broken and granulated bones left in meat, and foreign objects inadvertently left in food.
Often, it’s not choking that results in the injury, but the restaurant’s failure to administer CPR or call for emergency medical help promptly. When choking customers don’t receive care immediately and effectively, they can suffer suffocation and asphyxiation leading to brain damage and even death.
Puncture wounds occur more frequently in the summer months. That’s when customers are more prone to wear sandals or running shoes with thin soles and even walk barefoot into restaurants. Exposed screws, splintered wood, and broken glass are frequent culprits. Puncture wounds can lead to tetanus, bacterial infections, and scarring.
Restaurant liability and the law
Most people don’t give a lot of thought to injuries while in a restaurant or while eating restaurant food. Keep in mind a restaurant injury isn’t restricted to incidents on the premises. Food bought at a restaurant and consumed elsewhere can also cause injuries.
The law concerning restaurant liability is pretty clear. Restaurants are subject to state, county, and municipal health regulations. When restaurants violate safety regulations, the authorities can fine them or shut them down temporarily or permanently. The problem is that the fines the restaurants pay don’t go to injured customers. They go directly into the government’s coffers.
Fortunately, the courts take a different view of restaurant liability and customer injuries. If something in, or offered by a restaurant injures you, the courts give you the right to pursue compensation directly from the restaurant or its insurance company.
Here is how it works. The courts hold all restaurants serving the public to a very high legal duty of care (obligation) not to unduly harm their customers. This means restaurant owners must do everything reasonably possible to make sure their customers don’t get injured.
A restaurant’s duty of care includes not only following government laws and regulations, but also considering events that might foreseeably harm customers. This doesn’t mean every event, just those that similar restaurant owners and managers can reasonably foresee.
For example, if a customer cuts their arm on an exposed nail in the restaurant, the courts would probably consider the exposed nail a foreseeable event. All restaurant owners know, or should know, an exposed nail can cause a customer injury.
In the alternative, if one customer spills a drink on the floor and seconds later another customer slips and falls, there’s a good chance the courts would consider that an unforeseeable event.
The reasoning is a little tricky. In the case of the customer slipping on a spilled drink seconds after the spill, the restaurant didn’t have a reasonable amount of time to clean it up. It’s unreasonable, and arguably impossible, for a restaurant manager to have his employees following around each customer with a mop so the moment a customer spills a drink they could mop it up.
Yet, if a drink spills on the floor and it remains there for an hour, and another customer slips and falls, there’s a good chance that’s a foreseeable event. In this case, it’s reasonable for a restaurant manager to inspect the restaurant floor at calculated intervals to keep the floors clear and dry.
The injury is even more foreseeable if a customer reported the spilled drink to the manager. If he failed to quickly send an employee to mop up the spill (even if it was before the regular interval for inspection), the restaurant becomes liable.
When a restaurant fails to do everything reasonably possible to protect its customers, and as a result a customer gets injured, the courts consider the restaurant to have breached (violated) its duty of care (obligation) to the customer. The act or omission which results in the customer’s injury is referred to as the restaurant’s negligence.
When a restaurant’s negligence results in your injury, you’re entitled to compensation from the restaurant or its insurance company for your damages. Damages include medical and therapy bills, and out-of-pocket expenses for medicines, crutches, and even costs like hospital lot parking fees. You’re also entitled to reimbursement for lost wages and an amount for pain and suffering.
Evidence to prove your claim
Knowing the law about restaurant liability and negligence is one thing. Proving your claim of negligence is another. To prove negligence takes evidence. You must have sufficient evidence to prove not only that the restaurant was negligent, but also that the negligence was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your injury.
In other words, you may have suffered your injury at a restaurant or while eating a restaurant’s food, but if you can’t positively link the restaurant to your injury, your personal injury claim will fail.
In some states, if you were partly responsible for your injury, the restaurant is only partially liable (comparative negligence). In those cases, the percentage of your fault reduces the final settlement amount. In a few states, if you were even slightly at fault, the restaurant owes you nothing (contributory negligence). In that case, your entire personal injury claim would fail.
Your evidence must show that the event causing your injury:
- Was foreseeable by the restaurant owner
- Constituted negligence
- Directly caused your injury
- Resulted in real damages
Here’s where to begin:
Call for help.
If you get hurt, don’t feel embarrassed, and whatever you do, don’t leave. If you can’t call the manager over, ask a friend or another customer to do it. It’s important for the manager to know immediately of your injury and its cause.
If your injury is serious, tell the manager to call 911. If your injury doesn’t require immediate medical attention, the manager should administer first aid. Restaurants must, by state and local regulations, keep a thoroughly packed first aid kit on hand at all times.
Be sure to tell the manager exactly what happened. For insurance purposes, it’s highly likely he will fill out an incident report. If you leave and come back later without reporting your injury, and no one completes an incident report, the employees may eliminate or cover up the cause of your injury.
For example, if a broken shard of glass left on the floor punctures your foot, and you hobble away, only later to decide to go back and report your injury, it’s likely the glass is already gone, or another customer may have unwittingly kicked it out of harm’s way. At that point, trying to convince the manager a “phantom” shard of glass caused your bloody foot is all but impossible.
Witnesses, especially independent eyewitnesses, can make or break your restaurant liability claim. Ask an eyewitness to write down what she saw and ask her to sign and date the statement. It doesn’t need notarizing.
For example, if you arrive at work minutes after picking up a breakfast burrito at the local fast food joint, and shortly after eating the burrito you began to vomit violently, ask a coworker to call for help. Ask him to write down the time he saw you eat the burrito and approximately how many minutes later you became ill.
Photographs, video and audio
Use your cell phone to photograph or video the cause of your injury and the injury itself. For example, if you bit into that Cobb salad and broke your tooth on a small rock, make sure you photograph and video the salad, the rock, and your broken tooth. Also, ensure the time and date stamp are on.
Filing your claim with the insurance company
When the dust settles and you can finally speak with the insurance adjuster, tell the adjuster how you were injured and why. Tell her you have witness statements, photographs, and video evidence. The adjuster will tell you to send her copies of all your evidence, including your damages to date.
Settlement negotiations won’t begin until after you fully recover from your injury and your treatment has run its course.
Hiring an attorney
If you have a minor injury like a sprain, minor cuts, or abrasions, you can probably handle the insurance claim on your own. If though, your injury is serious, like broken bones or teeth, second- or third-degree burns, food poisoning, or other like injuries, you need an attorney. There’s too much at stake for you to try and handle a serious case alone.
See an example of a restaurant injury demand letter here.
Serious Burn Injuries at Private Party
In this premises liability lawsuit the plaintiff seeks damages after he was seriously burned by a heating element while attending a private party at a restaurant.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
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Visitor Questions on Business Liability for Injuries
What can I do if I never hear from the restaurant’s insurance company after a slip and fall? I was in a local restaurant on June 21, 2017 for lunch. When I first walked in the front door, I almost slipped due to the fact that there was a sizable amount of water sitting on the floor at the entrance. There was not a rubber mat on the floor as there should have... Read More >>
Compensation for biting into a rusted screw? I was in Applebee’s on Monday night roughly around 8:30pm and I ordered a pork-chop bone in with shrimp on top. I first cut the chop and put it in my mouth and felt some thing hard. I bit it with my left side of my back teeth – hard enough that I heard a... Read More >>
Tripped on curb at McDonalds… Yesterday I tripped and fell on a curb on my way into a McDonalds as someone was opening the door to exit. It startled me, and I tripped on the curb, falling with my full body weight into the door and onto the ground. It was pretty intense, blood started pouring out, I knew instantly... Read More >>
Broken tooth from eating a burrito… I was eating at a restaurant and ordered a wet burrito. As I was taking a bite I bit into a piece of hard plastic and it broke my tooth. I have no dental insurance and I want to know, must they pay for the repairs or am I screwed? Read More >>
Broken tooth from eating a Big Breakfast at McDonalds… I ordered a Big Breakfast at McDonalds. A worker brought the food out to me and I cut a piece of egg and a piece of sausage off and ate it. I again cut a piece of egg and a piece of sausage together and began to chew but this time my second to the... Read More >>
Patio umbrella fell on my head and caused a concussion… I was at a restaurant eating brunch on a patio. A patio umbrella from the table next to mine fell over onto my table, and the metal point hit me in the head. The Manager told me that the umbrella was broken and they removed it. They also closed the umbrella down that was partly... Read More >>
My husband choked on meat and perforated his esophagus… My husband choked on his first bite of meat when eating at a restaurant. He chewed it up but there were pieces of gristle in the meat and the ends were charred and dry like beef jerky. As soon as he swallowed it lodged in his throat. He could not breath. No one, not even... Read More >>
Injured while on vacation… I live in France but was on vacation in Florida when I was injured. I was walking in the marketplace of the Club Med in Sandpiper bay, when I fell down on the floor due to a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce left on the floor of the restaurant. I had to go the... Read More >>
My leg was punctured by wood while sitting down in a booth… Went to a chain restaurant and I went to slide into the wooden booth and screamed. I thought a knife had sliced my leg. I jumped up and raised my pant’s leg. I saw a piece of wood had stuck in my pants and another piece was embedded in my leg. I asked for a... Read More >>
No assistance from restaurant staff when choking? Sunday morning (May 3, 2015) I was at IHOP with my sister and my niece. When my breakfast had been served, I noticed that the sausage looked odd. I sent the plate back to have them cook it more. Immediately after tasting the sausage, I started to cough and my throat began to close, which... Read More >>
How to proceed after possible concussion from falling equipment? Today a friend of mine was at a KFC restaurant in Maryland and was struck in the head with a drink machine cover that fell off of the wall above them. They are now on their way to the Emergency Room to receive medical attention. What is the best course of action to proceed legally... Read More >>
Son choked on plastic in coleslaw… My son was eating coleslaw from KFC (he is about 1 year old) and started choking. I reached into his mouth and pulled out a piece of plastic! It looks like the sealed end of a bag that was opened. I am in talks with the insurance company but they are only offering $1000. Does... Read More >>
Broken tooth biting into bone… My girlfriend and I were out at a local Mexican chain resturant and she bit into a grilled, shredded, chicken taco and bit right into a large piece of chicken bone. It chipped two of her teeth, she couldn’t even finish eating her mouth was in so much pain. We notified the cashier that checked... Read More >>
Restaurant ceiling collapse… My 8 year old grandson was eating at a popular restaurant chain last week. He is also a special needs child. The ceiling above him collapsed on his head and around him. He was hysterical with fear which also instilled the same fear in my almost 2 year old granddaughter, who keeps saying to this... Read More >>
Seeking legal help for a broken tooth in a hotel restaurant… I was lecturing at a conference in Reston, VA. While eating dinner Saturday evening I began to eat my main course after a salad course. The meal was a duck dish with a candied plum sauce. Taking my first bite, I realized the sauce was so sticky and tacky that it stuck to my teeth... Read More >>
Bit into a screw in my food… I bit into a huge metal screw in my food while eating at the Cheesecake Factory. It cut my mouth but also caused a lot of mental distress. This happened 2 weeks ago. They are wanting to do a settlement with me. What is a good settlement amount for this kind of incident? Thanks. Read More >>
Tripped on rug not lying flat on the floor… I tripped inside a fast food restaurant on a rug that was not laying flat on the floor. I landed on my knee which was badly bruised, and slammed my head into the glass door and metal frame. I split my forehead open and suffered a concussion. I have since missed a week of work... Read More >>
Restaurant Owner Refusing to Give Incident Report… I was at a small bar and grill last week with three friends. We sat at a table with four chairs that looked to be set up on an old stage of some kind. It was painted black which blended in with the black floor. We were there for an hour and fifteen minutes and... Read More >>
Child Burned by Fast Food French Fry… We stopped at a well known fast food restaurant last night while we were out and my wife let my 2 year-old son grab a fry from the bag. My son began to let out a horrific scream. Initially we thought that he screamed because he dropped his food. After noticing him reaching for his... Read More >>
Child Standing Behind a Bathroom Door… I went to a buffet restaurant. When I went to the restroom and opened the door, there was a child (3-4 yrs old) standing right in front of the other side of the door. There was no way I could see if there was anyone behind the other side of door. The child was with... Read More >>
Restaurant Employee Participated in Assault… On Saturday I was beaten in a restaurant parking lot. A woman beat me up and some of the employees of the restaurant witnessed this but did nothing to help me. One of them even came over and hit me and pulled my hair. I did not know her name at the time, but I... Read More >>
Injured at a Fast Food Chain Restaurant… I was walking from the conjoined gas station into a major chain fast food restaurant and didn’t notice a puddle of soda on the floor. I stepped into it and slipped. As I attempted to regain balance my arm slid against the metal island which holds the soda fountain. I got a gash on my... Read More >>
Fell and Shattered Wrist in a Restaurant… Eighteen months ago I slipped on a greasy wooden floor in a well known restaurant. My fall was witnessed by the waitress. I instantly felt ill and immediately left. I did not file a complaint with the restaurant at that time. The waitress ran over as I was gathering my things to leave to see... Read More >>
Fell in a Restaurant Bathroom… I was in a restaurant and I had to go to the restroom, so I went to the bathroom and I closed the stall door. As I turned around I slipped on water that was on the floor. I fell to the side and hurt my back badly. I’m wondering if the restaurant is liable... Read More >>
Contusions From Slip and Fall on Wet Tiles in a Restaurant… I was in a restaurant in Florida and was going to the ladies room when I slipped on a wet floor and fell. I did not lose consciousness but was stunned. When I tried to sit up I was immediately dizzy and an ambulance was called. I was nauseous so they started an IV to... Read More >>
Faulty sliding glass case door fractures toes… On November 15, 2010, I went into a donut shop around 5:30am to get some donuts (of course). I also wanted a milk and soda for my daughter and myself. They have a refrigerated case with sliding glass doors containing their cold beverages. As I slid the door open to get a soda, the entire... Read More >>
Slipped and Fell in a Restaurant… I slipped and fell down in a public restaurant and now I hurt all over. The reason I fell was because there was some food on the floor and I slipped on it. I talked to the manager right away but she didn’t do anything about it. Is there anything I can do? Read More >>
Slip and Fall in McDonald’s… I was in McDonald’s one night ordering my meal. While the cook was making my meal I was going to go to the bathroom. I turned around made a step and fell. I caught myself with my hands and jumped up and looked around, embarrassed. Someone must have moped while I was standing in line... Read More >>