My wife tried a new restaurant last weekend and shortly thereafter became very sick. As a result, she had to go to the hospital and incurred out-of-pocket medical bills. It took her several days to recover and begin to feel better. I think she may have gotten food poisoning. Do we have any legal options to get reimbursed for the medical expenses, missing work and other suffering she endured?
– Not-So-Hungry Hubby
Dear No-So-Hungry Hubby,
Your first step if you suspect food poisoning is to get a doctor’s opinion. The symptoms of food poisoning are fairly well-known. Nausea, fever, stomach aches, and chills are among them, and they usually start showing up about 2-6 hours after contaminated food is consumed. However, a medical opinion will bolster your wife’s claim and will detail the extent of her injury.
If your wife’s medical reports point to food poisoning, it’s important to document and preserve any evidence relevant to her case. Save receipts and other records which show she ate at the restaurant and purchased the item in question. If she took home any leftovers, she may wish to have them tested for contaminants. At the very least, she should take pictures of any unconsumed portion she still has. She should also consider contacting the health department so it can investigate, especially since other patrons may have fallen ill. Remember, you can also look up the restaurant’s sanitation grades and inspection reports through the Mecklenburg County’s health department website. This may be important evidence if the restaurant has a history of failing to meet safe food requirements.
Food poisoning cases are notoriously difficult to prove simply because of the number of individuals and companies which may come into contact with what your wife ate. If she contacts the restaurant to complain, the manager may deny responsibility or suggest your wife got sick from something else. Therefore, she should keep a log of all the food she ate before and after her meal at the restaurant. Doing this may help rule out other potential causes of her illness.
Even if the food was contaminated, it may not be the restaurant’s fault. For example, the company responsible for shipping the food may not have properly refrigerated it. Regardless of who is to blame, companies have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure the food they serve is safe to eat. At a minimum, this means observing safe food and beverage rules and regulations. It also means cooking any food to a suitable temperature and ensuring proper handling procedures are followed. The particular food she ate may have a recommended temperature to which it should be heated, or there may be special handling procedures to ensure it’s safe for human consumption.
Unless your wife is facing substantial medical bills, it may not be worth her effort or money to pursue legal action. Proving negligence is a challenge even in the best cases. That shouldn’t discourage your wife, however, from at least consulting with an attorney. Gather your evidence and speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who handles these matters to determine what legal recourse she may have.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Laura H. Budd or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law. Submit your questions for The Fine Print to email@example.com