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Food poisoning at a restaurant: Can you sue?

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Food poisoning can be a serious health care concern. According to the CDC, 48 million Americans get sick every year from food poisoning. More than 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die every year as a result of food poisoning. If you can demonstrate that you became sick due to bad food served at a restaurant, you could file a personal injury lawsuit against them.

Getting a food poisoning diagnosis

One of the most important ways you can protect yourself and build a case against a restaurant is to obtain a diagnosis of food poisoning. The most common symptoms that may indicate you have food poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

But simply experiencing these symptoms is not enough. You will need to go to a health care professional and have a stool sample examined to determine what type of food poisoning you are experiencing. This test will play an important role in determining the liability of the restaurant that served you the food that made you ill.

Restaurants and specific foodborne pathogens

Restaurants were responsible for 52% of all reported foodborne illness outbreaks that occurred from 1998 to 2004.

Foodborne illnesses can be caused by bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that can make you sick. The most common pathogens include:

  • Botulism
  • coli
  • Hepatitis A
  • Salmonella

Some of these conditions can be fatal, while others can cause long-term damage to your liver. The type of pathogen determines the severity of the illness, how much time you may have to take off of work and the amount of overall financial compensation that you may be entitled to receive in a lawsuit. This is one of the reasons it is so important to receive a medical diagnosis about the specific type of pathogen that made you sick.

Demonstrating liability

If you experience food poisoning shortly after eating at a restaurant, you may believe that you got sick because you ate there, and you may be right. But in a personal injury lawsuit, you will have to prove that the restaurant did not comply with safety protocols or its employees were unreasonably unsafe in food preparation.

This can be a difficult claim, even if you have leftovers that contain harmful bacteria, because the restaurant’s lawyers will claim you simply did not refrigerate the food correctly after you left the establishment.

If the restaurant has been reported to the CDC, or local health authorities, your case against them may be easier to prove. If multiple customers became sick after eating at the establishment, liability may be easier to demonstrate as well.

Demonstrating liability can be difficult, but ASK LLP personal injury lawyers have successfully handled dozens of such cases and are here to help. Call them for a free case evaluation as soon as you suspect you have got food poisoning at a local food establishment.

Damages and financial compensation

If you experience food poisoning, it is likely that you will be unable to work. You will likely be miserable and experiencing pain, vomiting or other distress that make you unable to perform your job. When you are pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, you may seek compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and your pain and suffering.

Will the lawsuit be worth it?

Although you may want to file a personal injury claim after getting seriously sick at a restaurant, you should ponder whether the final payout will justify your effort. If the food poisoning was mild, you may not want to be stuck with a lengthy and costly lawsuit. A quick settlement with the restaurant owner should help cover all your medical bills and inconvenience.

But if you were exposed to a serious and potentially deadly pathogen, such as E. Coli or salmonella, you may wish to contact a personal injury attorney and discuss your options immediately. In food poisoning cases, the longer you wait the more likely the odds of proving your case will drop to zero.


Story by Mark Scott. With a law degree under his belt and years of experience, Mark set off to make the law more accessible to all. He decided to help people lost in the maze of legal terminology to find their way. Mark writes clear and concise pieces and gives simple advice that is easy to follow. On account of positive feedback from readers, he decided to dedicate more of his time to this goal and became a legal columnist. In his writings, Mark covers a wide array of topics, like how to seek legal counsel, or how to deal with different procedures. Furthermore, he directs his readers toward other trustworthy resources for more in-depth information.

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