Can I sue a restaurant for foodborne illness?
Have you ever become seriously ill from a foodborne disease after eating at a restaurant? If the answer is yes, you might have cause to file a lawsuit.
All of the food vendors in your local community – not just restaurants, but delis and grocery stores, to name a couple more – must follow food safety rules set by the city, county, district, or state. All of those rules have similar requirements, such as:
- source of the food
- how the food is processed
- the temperatures at which the food is stored and cooked
- how the food is handled
- hand washing by food handlers and servers.
Here are the steps to take if you want to sue a restaurant because you think you contracted a foodborne illness:
Determine what made you sick
There are many types of foodborne illnesses, but some of the most common include:
- Salmonella bacteria are responsible for as many as 1 million foodborne illnesses in the U.S. annually. Salmonellosis affects the intestinal tract, and is considered the No. 1 type of food poisoning year in and year out.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria are normally found in the intestines of all mammals. Most strains are benign, but some can cause serious illness.
- Listeria monocytogenes — also L. monocytogenes but most commonly Listeria — is a bacterium that produces listeriosis.
- Hepatitis A is a virus that can be contracted by eating contaminated food or water, or coming into contact with an infectious person, usually someone who hasn’t washed their hands properly after having a bowel movement.
Symptoms are similar for all types of foodborne illnesses, and can include:
- diarrhea, sometimes bloody
- upset stomach, including cramps
A laboratory test is the only way to identify the illness you contracted. It’s important that you visit your doctor and request a test to identify what made you sick.
Contact the health department
There may be a local or county health department, or you may contact the state. If you have a certain bacterial infection — such as an illness caused by E. coli O157:H7 — your doctor will report your illness.
Labs will conduct a test called pulsed field-gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and enter the results into a database called PulseNet. Officials use PulseNet to find people who have been sickened with the same bacteria. That’s how an outbreak is identified.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and states are starting to use a technique called whole genome sequencing (WGS), which is even more accurate at identifying bacterial DNA.