Food Poisoning – Who is Liable?

It is safe to say that most people experience food poisoning at least once in their lives. If you have ever had food poisoning, you know the misery it brings. How long and how ill you become is dependent on the type of ‘poison’ that entered your system, whether it be a norovirus, E. coli, listeria, etc. You may be wondering if you are able to file a lawsuit against the restaurant or grocery store that distributed or manufactured the food that made you ill. Liability for food poisoning depends on the specific circumstances of your claim. For example, time delays between when you ingested the food to the moment you became sick can make it difficult to determine which food made you sick. If a governmental agency issued a warning about the food you ate causing an outbreak of food poisoning, your claim may be easier to prove.

There are general theories of liability for food poisoning claims. These are:

  • Strict Product Liability: In a claim utilizing this theory, you must prove that the food product you ate was contaminated and that the contamination caused your illness.
  • Negligence: In a claim under this category, you must prove that the party in your case acted negligently when manufacturing or distributing the contaminated food products that caused your illness. To prove this, you must demonstrate that the defendant ‘failed to exercise reasonable care’ when manufacturing or supplying the food product.
  • Breach of Warranties: Many states have laws that impose minimum standards on products, called implied warranties, and the contaminated food you ingested constitutes a violation or breach of that warranty. An example of this might be lettuce that is guaranteed to be “triple washed.”

Liability in a food poisoning claim can be attributed to any party involved in the food distribution chain, which is the chain of distribution of a specific product from the manufacturer to the distributor to the customer. The chain of distribution in a food poisoning claim is commonly the food processing company, which can be a farm or slaughterhouse, the retailer, which may be a grocery store or restaurant, and any suppliers, distributors, and wholesalers in between. If you are one of a large number of victims sickened by the same food, you may be able to participate in a class action.

The wisest way to proceed is to contact an attorney with years of experience in product liability claims. To make sure you have the right one, call Finkelstein & Partners, LLP at 800-529-2676 or email