Restaurant Law Blog

Monday, June 8, 2015

Food Poisoning Lawsuits a Growing Threat to New York Restaurants

How to handle a potential food poisoning claim?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year. This is a shockingly high number, particularly since most if not all cases of food poisoning are preventable. Since food poisoning is largely preventable, there is almost always someone responsible for the victim’s illness. The near certainty that there are unclean hands (sometimes literally) that can be held responsible has inspired a growing number of food poisoning victims to file lawsuits seeking compensation for their illness. 

It is often difficult to pinpoint where exactly the fault lies in these cases, so plaintiffs will frequently sue everyone in the chain of distribution - from the food processor to the restaurant or grocery store where the food was purchased, and everyone in between. Unfortunately, this means many innocent parties get swept up into these suits. 

New York restaurants are particularly susceptible to lawsuits because the state’s adoption of Uniform Commercial Code §2-315 provides consumers with an implied warranty of fitness:  It reads:  “Where the seller…has reason to know…that the buyer is relying on the seller’s skill or judgment to select or furnish suitable goods, there is…an implied warranty that the goods shall be fit for such purpose.”  This basically means that restaurants and other food sellers are guaranteeing their food is fit to be eaten and will not make the consumer sick.

If a customer contacts you claiming your food made them ill there are several pieces of information you should collect, preferably during the first conversation with the customer, and if not then, soon after:

  • The customer’s full name, address, and contact information such as email address and phone number. 
  • If the customer visited the doctor, the doctor’s name, address, and contact information. 
  • The exact date the customer visited your establishment, and an estimated time of day.
  • A list of the foods and drinks the customer consumed at your establishment. If possible, cross check what the customer tells you with your sales data. 

After collecting this information, it’s important that you contact a seasoned attorney who can advise you as to the next steps to protect your business. The DiPasquale Law Group has helped owners of restaurants and nightclubs throughout New York City and can help you better understand your rights and the best course of action. 

The longer you wait to bring in an attorney, the more precarious your position becomes. Your reputation is the most valuable asset your restaurant has, and not taking a lawsuit seriously from the moment it is mentioned puts your reputation at serious risk. 

If you have been named in or threatened with lawsuits, the experienced restaurant law attorneys at the DiPasquale Law Group will work with you to clear your good name, or if you feel you have a responsibility to the victim, discretely negotiate a fair and quiet settlement. Call 646.383.4607 to schedule your free consultation.

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