Can I Sue A Restaurant For Food Poisoning?

Metro Detroit Personal Injury Lawyer


Few things are as unpleasant as food poisoning. Your expecting a pleasant evening out, and what you get is anything but. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. According to the Center For Disease Control And Prevention, food poisoning (or foodborne illness) affects 48 million Americans each year resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths (tweet this). 

If you have ever suffered an illness as a result of food served at a restaurant or purchased at a grocery store, you may have wondered if you could pursue a claim for damages. Often the answer depends on two questions: (1) Can you prove the restaurant caused your illness? and (2) Is your illness worth pursuing a legal claim? 

1. Can You Prove The Restaurant Caused Food Poisoning?

Proving that a restaurant served you food that was contaminated, undercooked, improperly stored, or infected can be very difficult. Often the symptoms of food poisoning are similar to the stomach flu and may not appear until days after consumption. Furthermore, when you are suffering from food poisoning, preserving evidence isn't exactly front of mind. In most cases, it is very difficult to prove the cause of your illness beyond mere suspicion. Could you have eaten something earlier in the day that caused you to get sick? Is it just a stomach flu? 

If you do have leftovers of your meal, you could have the food tested. However, this may be expensive. A stool sample or blood culture showing the bacteria or virus also helps to prove the link between the food consumed at the restaurant and illness you subsequently suffered. Even if testing does show the food was contaminated, the restaurant will likely argue that the contamination occurred after it left the restaurant (i.e. the chain of custody was broken).

As the saying goes: "there is strength in numbers". Your best chance for a successful food poisoning claim is if other people consumed the same food and were also affected. In some instances there may have been a recall issued for the ingredient you consumed. Alternatively, if there are a large number of complaints, a government health agency may have stepped in and investigated. If that is the case, a credit card receipt or copy of your bill can prove you were present at the restaurant on the day(s) in which the contaminated food was served. 

2. Is Your Claim Worth Pursuing Legally? 

No one can argue that food poisoning isn't unpleasant. It can disrupt your entire day, cause you to miss work and time with family and friends, and leave you on the couch in misery for days. Legally, however, a few days off work and feeling terrible are likely not going to be worth the time and expense of filing a lawsuit. 

Other cases of food poisoning, however, can be more serious. If you came in contact with E. coli, Salmonella or Norovirus, you may have endured a lengthy hospitalization and suffered substantial out of pocket expenses. In fact, E.coli can result in severe anemia, kidney failure and even death. In those cases, it would be prudent to contact a personal injury attorney to evaluate your claim for damages. 

3. Checklist For Food Poisoning Claim

Food poisoning claims can be difficult, however, if you believe you have suffered a foodborne illness as a result of a restaurant's negligence there are things you can do to help preserve your claim: 

  • Seek Immediate Medical Assistance (if necessary) - inform your doctors of the cause of your illness and request a stool sample or blood culture that will reveal the bacteria or virus. Without a positive culture, it is difficult to identify the cause of the illness and relate it back to the suspected food. 
  • Contact Your Local Health Department - promptly report the incident to your local health department who will investigate the matter. Be prepared to provide your contact information, the date, time and location where you consumed the contaminated food, and the details of your illness. If you have the suspected food in your possession, inform your local health department. 
  • Notify The Restaurant - promptly notifying the restaurant of your illness is important. Notice not only preserves and documents your claim, but also helps to prevent others from consuming the same contaminated food. Ask to file a written incident report and request a copy for your own records. 
  • Retain All Receipts - retaining a copy of your receipt and/or credit card statement proves that you were at the restaurant at the date and time that you say you were. It is important to keep all billing records and receipts for any out of pocket medical costs you incurred as well. 
  • Contact Metro Detroit Injury Lawyers - Consult an  experienced personal injury attorney at 248-430-8929

Metro Detroit Injury Lawyers is a Bloomfield Hills, Michigan law firm practicing personal injury law. Contact us today at 248-430-8929 for a free consultation and evaluation of your personal injury case, with no obligation.