Massachusetts Food Poisoning Liability: Food For Thought

Here’s a scenario that could easily happen to you. You and your significant other go out to dinner some evening, all set for a romantic rendezvous. Everything’s great. Dinner is excellent. The company is marvelous. And the wine is award-winning.

Except that when you get back home — or maybe even on your way home — you start to fell terribly ill or perhaps begin to vomit uncontrollably. This actually happened to my poor wife many years ago, after consuming some tainted melon at a restaurant. The melon had gone bad, causing my wife to get sick in public, on a street in Brookline at 11 o’clock in the evening. Afterward, she was unable to go to work for two days.

Has this ever happened to you?

If you have experienced food poisoning, you may wonder if you have a legal case to sue for damages, or even lasting injuries. Theh answer depends on the particular circumstances of what occurred. A significant time delay between your consumption of the food involved, and the onset of symptoms, may make it difficult to pinpoint the particular food that made you sick. On the other hand, if a government health agency has linked a particular food that you consumed to an outbreak of food poisoning, you will face an easier burden in pursuing legal action.

Food poisoning lawsuits usually fall in the category of product liability or personal injury. The legal basis for liability is that you have been sold a defective product (food), which caused an injury (food poisoning) to you. A food poisoning lawsuit may be based on:

Product Liability. Many states in the USA have strict liability laws concerning certain products. These laws will relieve you of the burden of demonstrating that the manufacturer or supplier of a contaminated food product was not sufficiently careful in making or distributing that product. This fact is a huge advantage in your favor. You – and your product liability attorney — only have to demonstrate that the food product you consumed was contaminated and that the contamination was the specific cause of your illness.

Negligence. Your attorney may also be able to argue in your favor that the defendant or defendants in your case acted negligently in manufacturing or supplying the contaminated food product that made you ill. In order to prove negligence, your lawyer must show that the defendants did not exercise sufficient care in manufacturing or distributing the contaminated food product that made you sick. In legal terms, this is described as “failing to exercise reasonable care.”

Breach Of Warranty. Many states impose certain minimum standards on products (known as “implied warranties”). The contamination of the food product in in your case may constitute a breach of the implied warranties. The contamination may also constitute a breach of any specific guarantees offered by the food distributor – for example, a package of lettuce may be advertised as “washed.”

An experienced injury lawyer will have to pinpoint the particular food product that made you sick. Your lawyer must also prove that your illness was caused by the contaminated food. The best way to do this is to have a stool sample scientifically tested for food poisoning. In food poisoning cases, your lawyer should also trace the contamination to its very source. This points to anyone involved in the chain of distribution of a food product. Who is in the chain of command? It often starts with the farm or slaughterhouse, or the manufacturer, followed by the retailer (which is a restaurant or grocery store) and then, in between, the suppliers and wholesalers.

If you are one of many victims of an outbreak of food poisoning, you may even band together and file a class-action lawsuit.

In some cases, a class action may have already have been filed in connection with the particular outbreak of food poisoning that made you sick. One example is the class-action lawsuit that was filed a few years ago against ConAgra. A Texas law firm eventually negotiated confidential settlements for 752 individuals in the United States; these people became ill after consuming Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter manufactured by ConAgra and tainted with salmonella. What to be on the lookout for right now? Clif Bar, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has just announced a recall of its bestselling Coconut and Chocolate Chip snack bars. The coconut and chocolate chip bars have been misplaced in wrappers intended for Clif Bar’s White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut bars but packaged correctly inside the boxes. The current wrapper fails to warn consumers of a potential hazard. People who may be allergic to coconut products may experience itch, swelling of their hands, face and cheeks, and difficulty breathing if they consume these snacks. These are all typical signs of allergic reactions, and the consumer may suffer severe anaphylactic shock or, in the worst case, death.

If you feel that you or someone you care about may have been injured due to food poisoning, you should contact an experienced Massachusetts food poisoning lawyer, as soon after the incident as possible.