Contaminated food at a restaurant

Foodborne illnesses are unfortunately common. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. Of the 48 million people who get sick, nearly 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 pass away.

If you recently have become sick from ingesting contaminated food at a restaurant or are currently experiencing complications, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover financial compensation. While no two food poisoning cases are the same, there may be similarities in the process of filing a lawsuit and in what damages are recoverable.

Do I Have a Claim?

In order to be able to recover financial compensation for your illness, you must first have a valid claim. If you have ingested contaminated food or water and became ill, it is possible you have a valid claim. Having a successful food poisoning claim requires proving one of the three following legal theories: strict liability, violation of warranty, or negligence.

Strict Liability

Strict liability removes the injured person’s burden of proving negligence. The injured person must simply show that the food product was contaminated and that the contamination was the cause of the foodborne illness. 

Violation of Warranty

Many states impose minimum standards on products called “implied warranties”. These warranties may not only protect a buyer, but also particular third parties involved. If the food that was sold was contaminated, its contaminated condition could be in violation of the implied warranty of the food being safe to ingest. 


Similar to personal injury lawsuits, the negligence legal theory would need to prove that the party or parties acted in a way that was negligent that caused your illness. An example could be if a food product was recalled, a restaurant was aware that food product was recalled, and decided to serve it anyways. 

Recoverable Damages in a Product Liability Lawsuit

Recoverable damages is the term used to explain the financial compensation a victim can receive by filing a claim against the responsible party or parties for the illness or infection.  “Any party involved in the chain of distribution of the contaminated food may be held liable for your damages,” notes food safety lawyer Jory Lange.

Food poisoning claims fall under the classification of product liability: the idea being that the victim was sold a product (food) that caused injury (illness).

There are three types of damages in a product liability lawsuit: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. 

Economic Damages

Often referred to as compulsory or calculable losses, economic damages refer to the tangible financial losses due to the illness. Common examples of economic damages include medical costs, costs of future care, household services, property damages, lost wages, and lost earning capacity. 

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are not measurable losses, meaning that they cannot be determined by calculating bills and receipts. Non-economic damages can include: emotional distress or anguish, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, and disability or disfigurement. 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are unique as they are designed to punish the liable party for their extreme carelessness or intentional wrongdoing. While rarely awarded, punitive damages may be relevant to your specific food poisoning case. 

Moving Forward With a Food Poisoning Claim

After food or water made you sick, immediately seek medical attention. Not only can prompt medical attention help identify potential serious conditions, it can also serve as evidence in your food poisoning claim.

After you’ve received medical treatment, contact an experienced food safety lawyer to explore your claim and options for recovering financial compensation. If more than one person was a victim of food poisoning from the same restaurant or product, you may be able to join forces and file a class action lawsuit.

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