Many consumers each year fall victim to food poisoning and food-borne illnesses. These incidents can result in legal claims, although often it is difficult to determine specifically which food caused the illness. Bringing a lawsuit may be easier if the manufacturer or the government has issued a recall or announced that a certain food has caused food poisoning issues. These cases usually are considered part of the products liability area of personal injury law, since food technically is a type of product that is sold to a consumer, who may be harmed if it is contaminated or otherwise defective.
Depending on the state in which you are bringing the claim, you may be able to argue that the manufacturer or distributor of the food should be strictly liable. This means that you only need to show that the food was contaminated and that you got sick as a result. If your state does not allow a strict liability theory, you can bring a negligence claim. This can be more complicated because it requires proving that the defendant did not use reasonable care under the circumstances. In still other situations, a consumer may be able to bring a breach of warranty claim based on the implied warranty provided by state law. If the packaging or labeling on the food provided any specific guarantees, meanwhile, you may have an express breach of warranty claim if the defendant failed to follow through on the guarantees.
Proving Your Food Poisoning Claim
Showing that food was contaminated and showing that your illness or other harm resulted from it are two different steps. If a long time elapses between eating the food and developing food poisoning, you may have trouble pinpointing the source of your symptoms. If many people suffer from similar symptoms at the same time, however, the government may investigate the incident and test the food for contamination. This testing can provide valuable evidence for any litigation that ensues because it can reveal the specific problem with the food.
To prove that your illness resulted from the contaminated food, you may need to have a stool sample tested for the presence of the same microbes that were found in the food. If testing shows a match, you likely will have a strong claim. Before going through the process of testing, you may want to make sure that your damages would be sufficient to make a claim worthwhile. If you suffered from only moderate symptoms and did not require hospitalization or significant medical attention, a lawsuit may not make sense.
If you do bring a lawsuit, you can sue anyone that was involved in distributing the food, including the manufacturer, the supplier, and the store or restaurant that sold the food to you. As with other personal injury cases, you will need to bring your claim within the applicable statute of limitations to preserve your rights.
Sometimes a large group of people who have suffered from the same type of contaminated food product bring a class action together. This allows the plaintiffs and their attorneys to pool their resources and handle the case more efficiently. You may want to see whether a class action already has been filed in response to a type of contaminated food that you have consumed, since you may be able to join the existing lawsuit. This means that the lawyers in that class action will become your representatives. You will not need to look for your own attorney or research the law, and you will not face significant costs.
However, joining a class action is optional, and you can still bring your own claim if you prefer. You may want to talk to an attorney as well as the attorneys bringing any existing class action to find out whether you should join it.