My office has represented many victims of food poisoning, or foodborne illness, including victims of some high profile Rhode Island food poisoning cases. I have helped victims of the DeFusco’s Bakery salmonella outbreak as well as six (6) victims of the norovirus outbreak that led to the Rhode Island Department of Health temporarily closing Uncle Sushi restaurant. Outside of high profile cases like this, food poisoning occurs much more often than people may think and it can range in seriousness from a relatively minor 24 hour stomach bug all the way to death. The Center for Disease Control suggests there are as many as 76 million cases of food poisoning each year of which 300,000 people seek medical treatment and 5,000 people die. Some of the most common pathogens that result in food poisoning are bacterias such as : Salmonella, E. Coli, Clostridium Perfringens, Shigella, Listeria, and more.
There are several theories of liability available in a foodborne illness case. Essentially, food poisoning lawsuits are product liability cases. The argument is that the product released from the manufacturer was in a dangerous and defective condition when it left the hands of the producer and remained in that dangerous condition when it was received by the consumer. We then have to show that the consumer used the product in the manner it was anticipated (this obviously refers to eating the product in food poisoning cases) and that the product caused the food poisoning and associated injuries.
You can also proceed with a food poisoning case under the more common theory of negligence. As in any other case of negligence, with a food poisoning case, the plaintiff looks to prove that the defendant owed the consumer a duty of care and that through its negligent actions breached that duty of care resulting in ultimate harm to the consumer. For example, a restaurant buys eggs that are not tainted with bacteria and are safe to consume. They leave the eggs outside of a refrigerator, however, for several days and then use the eggs in the preparation of a dish. Because of their negligence in not properly handling the eggs, they have grown salmonella which was transferred to the consumer while eating the prepared dish. By ignoring all state law and well known food safety handling guidelines, the restaurant committed an act of negligence and would be liable.