Many consumers become injured from food-borne illnesses, and these injuries can result in legal claims for personal injury. It is easiest to bring a lawsuit for a defective food product that has made a consumer ill if the manufacturer or government has issued a recall or announced that the product has caused consumers to become ill. In other cases, it may be difficult to determine which specific food has caused the consumer’s illness.
A plaintiff injured by a defective food product may sue anyone involved in the distribution chain, including the manufacturer, the supplier, and the store or restaurant that sold the food.
Cases for injuries and illness from food products are brought as products liability claims. Therefore, plaintiffs can sue for negligence and strict liability. Under a strict liability theory, the plaintiff will only have to prove that the food was contaminated and that they got sick from consuming the food. Negligence cases may be more difficult to prove because the plaintiff will have to show that the manufacturer did not exercise reasonable care.
A third type of claim plaintiffs can bring is a breach of warranty claim for the implied warranty of merchantability. Products should be safe for their intended use, and therefore have an implied warranty of merchantability that they will not cause injury to consumers when used as intended. Therefore, food has an implied warranty of merchantability that it will be edible, and if it is not, the manufacturer of the food product has breached the implied warranty of merchantability and can be held liable for injuries caused to consumers by the food.
A plaintiff may also sue for an express breach of warranty if the packaging or labeling on the food product provides specific guarantees about its safety or effectiveness and injures the consumer by failing to meet those guarantees.
There are two steps of proof in a defective food product case. The plaintiff must first show that the food was defective or contaminated. If a long period of time passed between the plaintiff’s eating the food and developing an illness, they may have a difficult time showing that the specific food they are suing over was contaminated. However, if many consumers of the food product suffer from a similar illness at the same time, this will make it much easier for the plaintiff to prove that the food was contaminated. In such a case, the government might even test the food for contamination, which will be valuable evidence in the plaintiff’s case.
Next, the plaintiff must prove that the contaminated food was the cause of their illness. Plaintiffs may run into problems where they have difficulty showing that one product caused their illness out of the many different foods they consumed during a certain time period.
A successful plaintiff in a defective food product lawsuit can recover monetary damages for their injuries. The types of damages recoverable in a defective food product lawsuit include:
In an extreme case where a consumer has died from a defective food product, the decedent’s family may also bring a wrongful death action.