Consuming contaminated food can result in food poisoning, opening the door to a possible defective product liability claim or a personal injury claim. Food poisoning is defined as an illness caused by consuming food infected with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The most challenging part of food poisoning cases is proving the exact food that made you sick and where that food came from.
There are three main legal theories that food poisoning cases could fall under. Below are the descriptions of each theory:
Strict product liability – In most states, there are strict laws involving the food that manufacturers produce and for the suppliers who distribute that food; both parties are responsible for providing non-contaminated food. If you become ill upon eating their food and can prove that their food is what made you sick, you could make a claim against them.
Breach of warranties – Some packaged foods come with a statement of guarantee, which is a promise that the food manufacturer makes regarding the quality of the food. An express warranty or guarantee generally requires the following:
- A statement of fact and/or a promise;
- The inclination for a consumer to purchase the product; and
- The product buyer’s injury resulting from the reliance on the stated fact and/or promise
An example would be a “thoroughly washed” sticker on a produce product. If you can prove that this food item made you sick, there could be a breach of warranty claim brought against the manufacturer.
Negligence – If a manufacturer or supplier provided food that made you ill, proving that they were negligent by distributing a contaminated food could be another legal basis for making a claim. In this case, you must be able to show that a food manufacturer or supplier was not reasonably careful, or “failed to exercise reasonable care,” in the production or distribution of the contaminated food.
Chain of Food Distribution
The typical chain of distribution for food poisoning lawsuits is as follows:
Food processing company (farm or slaughterhouse)
Retailer (market, grocery store, or restaurant)
Suppliers or distributors in between.
In food poisoning cases, proving your claim is generally the most difficult aspect. In order to win your lawsuit against a food manufacturer or supplier, you will generally need to prove two things:
- The food you consumed was contaminated
In most cases, there is a time delay between the time you consumed a contaminated food and when you became ill from it. Because of this, it is usually quite challenging to pinpoint the exact food that made you sick. However, when there is a public notification from a government agency regarding a specific food poisoning outbreak, it is easier to identify the contaminated food. Providing solid evidence will make your case much stronger, such as providing scientific testing results that identify the disease-causing microbes that were present in the food.
- You became sick from the contamination
The second part of your case is proving that the contaminated food is what caused you to become ill. Generally, a stool sample is the best method when linking the contaminated food to your illness. If the disease-causing microbes in your stool are the same as the microbes in the contaminated food, your case will stand much stronger in a lawsuit.
Timeline for Filing a Claim
For personal injury and product liability claims, there is a specific amount of time that you are legally able to file a lawsuit; this is called the “statute of limitations.” Every state has their own time limits, so be sure to find out how long you have. In Nevada, the statute of limitations for a product liability claim is 2 years.
Also be aware if there are class action lawsuits currently active regarding an outbreak of food poisoning. In most cases, joining a class action lawsuit is easier. Here are a few advantages of joining a class action lawsuit versus pursuing your own lawsuit:
- The lawyers who have taken the class action lawsuit will become legal representation, releasing you from the burden of finding a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer on your own
- Most likely, you will have minimal to no upfront costs or fees
- Complicated legal issues will be figured out for you, such as where to file your claim and what type of lawsuit is most relevant
Get Legal Help
Once you have become ill, write down all of the facts surrounding the chain of events leading up to your illness. This includes what you have eaten, where you have eaten, whether others consumed the same food, as well as your symptoms. This information will help you figure out your next steps. Depending on your case, a personal injury claim may make more sense than a product liability claim. Contact a personal injury attorney to see what your options are.