Should You Bother Suing a Restaurant For Food Poisoning?

Unless you've suffered serious and lasting illness, it's usually not worth the trouble to sue over a food poisoning incident.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Can I sue a restaurant for food poisoning? This is a common question, but it may not be the best one to ask when it comes to personal injury lawsuits over food poisoning. If you ate at a particular restaurant and became sick afterward, you might suspect that something in the food or some factor related to the restaurant's sanitation caused your illness. And you might be right.

But in these cases, the better questions to ask might be: Can you prove that the restaurant is legally at fault for causing your illness? And if so, did you actually suffer a level of harm that might justify expending the time and money to file a personal injury claim?

Can You Prove That the Restaurant Is To Blame For Your Illness?

You might have a strong suspicion that it was that particular dinner at that particular restaurant that made you sick. But it can be difficult to prove, especially if any significant amount of time has passed between the meal and your illness.

It's important to consider (especially since you can rest assured that the restaurant and anyone else you sue will ask) whether something else made you sick. Could it just be the stomach flu? Could it have been caused by something else you ate?

Even in rare cases where you happen to have evidence that might prove that the restaurant's food was tainted (you've got leftovers in a doggy bag in your fridge), it's likely not conclusive evidence. Let's say you have the leftovers tested and lab analysis reveals the presence of harmful bacteria in the food. If you sue the restaurant, they're going to turn around and claim that something happened to the food after it left the restaurant—you left it unrefrigerated or allowed it to become contaminated in some other way. (Get more information on evidence in a personal injury case.)

You have a much easier path to a successful legal claim over food poisoning if you're not the only one who was affected. In some cases, a product recall or a health agency warning will apply to certain food products. In recent years we've seen high profile cases involving bagged spinach and ground beef products, for example. In cases like these, in which a more plaintiff-friendly fault standard known as "strict liability" may apply, all you might need to prove is that the affected food products were used in the restaurant where you ate and got sick.

Learn more about proving fault in a personal injury case.

Is It Worth It to File a Personal Injury Claim?

No one likes getting sick, especially from food poisoning. It's uncomfortable and disruptive in the rosiest of scenarios. Let's assume you're confident you can prove that a restaurant caused your food poisoning. If the only result is a dozen trips to the bathroom and a few days of feeling under the weather, it might not be worth it (time-wise and money-wise) to pursue a legal claim. Your losses ("damages" in legalese) might not add up to all that much.

Obviously, it's a different story if your bout of food poisoning involves hospitalization, medical treatment, and/or a particularly dangerous microbe like E. coli or salmonella. And food poisoning cases that affect younger or older persons are often riskier from a health perspective, so that's another factor to keep in mind. In situations where medical bills add up and food poisoning causes more than a few days of discomfort, it might be worth it to contact a personal injury attorney and discuss your options.

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