Can I Sue for Food Poisoning?

Yes, you can generally sue for food poisoning if the following is true:

  1. You have been diagnosed with botulism, camplylobacteriosis, E. coli, hepatitis A, listeriosis, salmonellosis, shigellosis or vibriosis.
  2. Your illness can be linked to a food product and/or a specific location (restaurant, deli, etc.).

Pritzker Hageman, a national food poisoning litigation law firm, has won millions for victims of food poisoning, including a settlement for over $6 million and a $7.5 million verdict, as of November 29, 2016, the largest jury verdict for foodborne illness in the United States.*

Contact our law firm right away for a free consultation about your foodborne illness case. Our lawyers have won hundreds of millions of dollars for people just like you who were harmed by unsafe and dangerous food products.

Our lawyers represent clients like you in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits throughout the United States. We are not paid unless you win.

Bad Bug Law Team - PritzkerOur law firm handles food poisoning lawsuits involving the following pathogens:

Proving a Case

Brendan Flaherty

National food safety attorney Brendan Flaherty held a roundtable discussion about current trends and issues in foodborne illness litigation. The roundtable was entitled “Food Safety from Farm to Fork: Litigation Perspectives” and was hosted by the ABA Section of Litigation, Food and Supplements Subcommittee. Brendan can be contacted at 1-888-377-8900.

Under the law, a person injured by food poisoning has to prove three things in order to make a successful strict liability claim in a food poisoning case:

  • The Food was Contaminated with a Foodborne Pathogen – There has to be some evidence that the food was contaminated with a pathogen. This can be done with microbiological evidence (e.g., E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella or another pathogen is found in a sample of the food) and/or epidemiological evidence (e.g., dozens of people who ate at the same restaurant around the same time contracted E. coli infections). Read “What is the incubation period for E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and Other Pathogens?
  • Causation – The contaminated food actually caused the food poisoning victim’s illness.
  • Damages – As a result of the food poisoning, the person was harmed physically, mentally and financially.

This involves a number of disciplines including medicine, microbiology, epidemiology, sanitation, food safety and agriculture among others.

But ultimately, all of the facts deduced from these disciplines have to be judged according to the law in the state in which the injury occurred. Simply put, what is that law and what does it require (and, equally important, not require)?

What Does the Law Require to Win a Food Poisoning Lawsuit?

A recent California case answers this question.

In Sarti v. Salt Creek Ltd. a young woman became very ill as a result of an infection involving a type of bacteria, Campylobacter, that’s often found on raw chicken. She claimed it came from food she ate at the Salt Creek Grille.

She did not eat chicken at the restaurant. Rather, she ate an appetizer consisting of raw ahi tuna, avocado, cucumber and soy sauce. None of those ingredients are thought to typically harbor Campylobacter. Those ingredients can, however, carry the bacteria if they come in contact with (cross contamination) raw chicken or the utensils used to prepare it.

After the woman became ill and a report was made to the health department, the restaurant was inspected and a number of improper sanitation issues were identified that could lead to campylobacter cross- contamination. However, as is often the case in such investigations, there was no “smoking gun” conclusively establishing that the improper food practices actually caused the food she ate to be contaminated.

The doctor who treated the young woman testified that it was more likely than not that the restaurant’s improper practices caused her Campylobacter infection. The jury agreed and awarded her substantial money damages. An appeal followed in which the issue was whether there was enough evidence to support the verdict.

On appeal, the restaurant contended that unless the young woman could rule out every other possible cause of her illness, she could not win. In other words, she would have the burden of proving that absolutely no other food, surface or person caused her illness. The appeals court called this position “untenable” and concluded:

At this point, we should confront the semantic danger in the word “possibility.” The word must necessarily connote something more than bare conceivability or plausibility, otherwise it would swallow up the universe. For example, in a food poisoning case, how could the plaintiff disprove that she didn’t pick up some nasty bacteria (here, Campylobacter) because she touched a doorknob that had been previously touched by someone who had been handling raw chicken or who had changed a diaper, and hadn’t washed his or her hands? Well, yes, one might reason, it is conceivable that that might have happened. It is ludicrous, though to suggest that such bare conceivability must, as a matter of law, defeat a food poisoning claim.

Instead, the court determined that the woman had met her burden of proof by offering expert testimony that linked the Campylobacter and the particular unsanitary conditions found at the restaurant. In other words, it was all right for the jury to infer that linkage without requiring the woman to disprove every other potential source, no matter how remote.

This decision makes good common sense. If the restaurant’s position was accepted, it would be virtually impossible to win a foodborne illness case. Victims would have to exclude every other cause or source, a physical and intellectual impossibility. Fortunately, the California court didn’t see it that way.

Attorney Fred Pritzker has over three decades of experience representing survivors of foodborne illness and other unlawful conduct. He has collected millions of dollars on behalf of victims. You can contact Fred or another attorney at our law firm for a free case consultation by email (fhp@pritzkerlaw.com) or telephone (toll-free 1-888-377-8900).

More Information

*Based on a thorough review of the jury verdicts available through Westlaw’s database as of November 29, 2016,  there are no larger reported jury verdicts for petting zoo cases. In fact, it also appears there are no larger jury verdicts for foodborne E. coli or any other foodborne illness caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Vibrio, Shigella, Hepatitis A, Norovirus, Clostridium, Staphylococcus, or Bacillus cereus.