Food poisoning is a miserable experience. Many cases of food poisoning are minor and go away after a day or two. However, it is possible to become seriously — even life-threateningly — ill by ingesting contaminated food or drink. In some circumstances, you can hold the restaurant, grocery store, or food distributor accountable. Our personal injury attorneys may be able to help you get compensation if you have suffered from food poisoning.
In This Guide:
- Who Can You Sue for Food Poisoning?
- Proving a Food Poisoning Claim
- Filing a Lawsuit against a Restaurant or Food Truck
- Filing a Lawsuit against a Food Service Company or Grocery Store
- What Can I Recover from a Food Poisoning Lawsuit?
Who Can You Sue for Food Poisoning?
You can bring legal action for food poisoning against any party that serves, sells, or supplies food. This can include:
- restaurants and food trucks
- food service companies
- grocery stores, growers, and producers
Statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that approximately 48 million people suffer from food poisoning each year in the United States. Most cases are mild and clear up within 48 hours, however, foodborne illnesses can become serious, causing organ damage, coma, and even death for high-risk individuals.
The CDC says that, on average, foodborne illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths a year.
What is Food Poisoning?
Ingesting food or beverages that are contaminated with certain viruses, bacteria, parasites, or toxins causes food poisoning. It occurs when food is improperly handled during the manufacturing process or is not prepared or stored at proper temperatures. Food can also be contaminated by cooks and servers who may be ill.
Food poisoning can lead to serious illness and hospitalization, which can result in massive medical bills and lost wages from missing work. The 10 most common food poisoning offenders are listed and described at the bottom of this legal guide.
Symptoms Associated with Food Poisoning
While most incidents of food poisoning are mild enough to come and go within a day or two, it’s important to monitor for indications of a more serious illness such as:
- bloody stools
- abdominal cramps and pain
- loss of appetite
If you or someone close to you is experiencing one or more of these symptoms and suspects food poisoning, see a doctor.
Diagnosing Food Poisoning
A physician must put together a detailed medical and personal history which includes the length and symptoms of the illness and the foods consumed. The patient must also undergo a comprehensive medical examination to check for any indicators associated with food poisoning. The doctor could order diagnostic testing, which can require a stool culture or blood test.
Such tests not only help establish a personal injury case but they allow the doctor to notify the local health department to look for a food poisoning outbreak within your community.
Proving a Food Poisoning Claim
You must demonstrate two key facts in any legal action you bring against a food server, seller, or provider:
- you ingested contaminated food,
- you got sick because of that contamination,
- the defendant was negligent or reckless in handling the food, and
- your illness was caused by the negligence or recklessness of the defendant
It is easier to bring legal action if a government agency like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has linked a particular food you consumed to a known outbreak, in which case you could join a class-action lawsuit. Proving an isolated incident of food poisoning that resulted in serious illness can be considerably more difficult.
To make such a case, however, a personal injury attorney can present:
- evidence of other instances of similar food poisoning from the same source,
- expert evidence connecting the illness to the food provider,
- medical evidence proving serious sickness or injury; and
- evidence to establish the cause of the illness
Filing a Lawsuit Against a Restaurant or Food Truck
You can sue a restaurant for causing a foodborne illness by showing the food it served made you sick. Like any personal injury lawsuit, the case must be based on Colorado negligence laws.
You must be able to show:
- the restaurant owed a duty of care not to serve contaminated food and not to get its customers sick;
- you were diagnosed with food poisoning;
- you ate food from the restaurant or got sick from another person who ate there;
- your illness caused you quantifiable harm,
You can hold restaurants accountable for their employee’s actions under the respondeat superior provision in Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-111.5
Respondeat superior is a Latin legal term meaning a person shall be held responsible for the acts of his or her agents or employees. For example, the restaurant can be held liable if a waiter or cook handled food without washing their hands regularly and it caused food poisoning.
Filing a Lawsuit Against a Food Service Company or Grocery Store
Food service companies provide ingredients and food to restaurants, hospitals, schools, and government institutions such as jails and prisons. Like the businesses they supply, food service companies must ensure their products are handled and stored in a manner that keeps them fresh and free from contamination.
Product Liability Laws
Most food poisoning cases in Colorado fall under product liability laws. Colorado Revised Statute 13-80-106 allows anyone who has been sold a defective product, such as food that causes serious injury or harm, to seek compensation for damages such as hospital bills and lost wages.
Colorado is a strict liability state when it comes to most cases of food poisoning. Strict liability means the plaintiff (the sick person) does not have to prove negligence on the part of the food distributor. The plaintiff need only provide evidence showing the:
- company sold or distributed a contaminated or spoiled food product
- product was contaminated when it left the company’s control
- contaminated food product was used or ingested in the way it was intended
- person made ill suffered quantifiable (financial) harm as a result
Suing a Grocery Store
You cannot sue a grocery store or restaurant just because it was found to have served or sold contaminated food or drink. You are entitled to compensation only if you became seriously ill by ingesting the bad food — and can prove it.
However, if the grocery store sold you expired food that caused you to get sick, then you can file a claim against the grocer for any medical bills and damages that resulted. Depending on the circumstances, a grocer can be liable under a negligence standard, a product liability standard, or both.
“Sell By” Dates Are Not Expiration Dates
The date stamped on a food item purchased at a grocery store is not the date the food automatically goes bad. Rather, it is a sell-by date used by grocery clerks and managers to determine when to replace the item with fresher stock.
Getting sick after ingesting food or drink, such as milk, after its “sell-by” date does not automatically establish a case for legal action. You must prove that the food or drink caused your serious illness.
What Can be Recovered in a Food Poisoning Lawsuit?
If you file a successful personal injury claim against a restaurant, food truck, grocery store, or food service company, you can be compensated for both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages include:
- medical bills;
- future medical bills;
- lost wages; and
- lost earning capacity.
Documentary evidence, such as bills and receipts, help determine the total value of economic damages.
Non-economic damages include:
- pain and suffering;
- emotional distress;
- emotional distress;
- loss of enjoyment of life; and
- loss of consortium.
Talk to an Attorney if You Were Harmed Due to Food Poisoning
If you racked up significant medical bills due to a serious food poisoning illness, you may be entitled to compensation. If have questions about whether you have a case against the manufacturer or restaurant that caused your food poisoning, contact the experienced Personal Injury Team at Robinson & Henry. We can help determine if you are eligible for medical bills reimbursement and possibly compensation for other damages. Call 303-688-0944 to begin your free case assessment.
Ten Common Types of Food Poisoning
- Staphylococcus Aureus: Symptoms appear 1-6 hours after eating and include stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Staphylococcus aureus has been associated with improperly cooked foods.
- Clostridium Perfringens: Symptoms appear 6- 24 hours after eating and include stomach cramps and diarrhea. The symptoms are usually sudden and last roughly one day. Clostridium Perfringens is associated with improperly handled beef or poultry, pre-cooked foods, and gravies.
- Norovirus: Symptoms appear 12-48 hours after eating and include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Norovirus is associated with fresh fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, shellfish, and sick food handlers.
- Salmonella: Symptoms appear 12-72 hours after eating and include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Salmonella is associated with undercooked or raw turkey, chicken, eggs, raw fruits, unpasteurized milk and juice, raw vegetables, and some animals.
- Clostridium Botulinum: Symptoms appear 18-36 hours after eating and include drooping eyelids, blurry vision, double vision, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Botulism is associated with foods that were not properly fermented or canned, as well as illicit alcohol.
- Vibrio: Symptoms appear 24-72 hours after eating and include nausea, stomach cramps, watery diarrhea, chills, and fever. Vibrio is associated with undercooked or raw shellfish, usually oysters.
- Campylobacter: Symptoms appear 48-72 hours after eating and include stomach cramps, fever, and bloody diarrhea. This germ is caused by contaminated water.
- E Coli: Symptoms appear within three to four days and include diarrhea that is often bloody, vomiting, and severe stomach cramps. E. Coli is associated with unpasteurized milk and juice, undercooked or raw ground beef, contaminated water, raw sprouts, and raw vegetables.
- Cyclospora: Symptoms appear in approximately 1 week and include stomach cramps, increased gas, fatigue, nausea, bloating, watery diarrhea, weight loss, and loss of appetite. This germ is associated with raw fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
- Listeria: Symptoms appear in 1-4 weeks and include stiff neck, headaches, loss of balance, confusion, fever, convulsions, and muscle aches. Pregnant women may experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. The infection could cause death or serious illness in newborns. Listeria is associated with soft cheeses such as queso fresco, melons, sprouts, hot dogs, deli meats, pâtés, smoked seafood, and unpasteurized milk.