Food poisoning is an incredibly unpleasant experience – even in mild cases. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 325,000 cases of food poisoning requiring hospitalization and about 5,000 deaths from food poisoning each year in the United States. These are just a fraction of the more than 76 million cases of food-related illnesses reported each year.
In some cases, a bout of food poisoning may lead to a lawsuit. It’s imperative to know your options should you suffer food poisoning. After such an event, your priority should be to see a doctor. Many types of food poisoning manifest symptoms almost immediately while others can take several days before they are apparent. Your doctor will more than likely run various tests to determine the cause of your food poisoning. While these tests may show that your illness was indeed food poisoning, they may not be able to pinpoint the exact food that caused it.
Building a Food Poisoning Case
After receiving medical treatment, obtain copies of your medical reports and test results from the incident. These will be valuable to building a case against whoever is responsible for the food that made you sick. Your doctor’s diagnosis will play a large role, but it’s more important to determine which food made you sick. The timeline of what you ate and when symptoms appeared should help you narrow down the possibility. If you suspect that the contaminated food came from a grocery store, restaurant, or other business, try to find the receipt from when you purchased it.
A lawyer will help you determine the strength of your case. He or she may conduct some research into the public health findings in your area. If you ate at an establishment linked to other food poisoning cases or bought recalled food from your grocery store, these could be likely culprits. In some cases, you may need to submit leftover scraps (if available) for laboratory testing.
Filing a Lawsuit
If multiple people suffered food poisoning from the same source as you, your chances of succeeding in your lawsuit dramatically increase. In some cases, you may be able to join a class-action lawsuit for more expedited legal proceedings. A food poisoning case would fall under the purview of product liability, meaning your attorney will need to prove that the defendant distributed or sold contaminated food. Your attorney then needs to prove that the contaminated food caused your illness.
Winning Your Case and Collecting Compensation
If your attorney can prove the defendant’s liability for your food poisoning, you could claim various types of compensation. Primarily, the defendant will more than likely must reimburse you for your medical expenses and any direct financial impact that the food poisoning had on you. Depending on the type of food poisoning you had, you may have experienced extremely painful symptoms for an extended time. A judge may decide this qualifies for pain and suffering compensation. Your attorney will likely call in expert witnesses to testify to the level of distress your foodborne illness caused you. Additionally, you may also sue for any lost wages you would have earned during the time you were in the hospital for your illness.
In rare cases, a judge may decide to award punitive damages if the defendant’s actions were clearly dangerous, intentional, and grossly negligent. For example, if a restaurant served food that was improperly stored or past its expiration, a judge may decide that this is too large of an error to overlook and award you punitive damages to discourage similar behaviors in the future. Every case is different, so consult with an attorney as soon as possible after suffering food poisoning to discuss your options.