Proving a Food Poisoning Case

Actually proving your case in court is often the greatest challenge in a food poisoning lawsuit.

By , J.D.

When you've suffered what appears to be some form of foodborne illness, it's always possible to claim that a certain restaurant, manufacturer, or other entity is to blame. But actually filing and winning a food poisoning/foodborne illness lawsuit can be an uphill battle. In this article, we'll cover what you'll need to do, including:

  • proving that the food you ate was contaminated
  • gathering the right evidence, and
  • establishing that the contamination was what made you sick.

Proving That the Food You Ate Was Contaminated

In order to make a successful claim over food poisoning or foodborne illness, the first thing you'll have to do is pinpoint the particular food product that made you sick. Could it have been the the shrimp cocktail appetizer, the romaine in the main-dish salad, or the raw eggs that were whipped into the dessert? And if there was a delay in your coming down with symptoms, how many hours passed, and how many other meals did you eat in between?

You can fully expect that the restaurant or other defendant will be working just as hard as you to argue that the cause of your illness was something else; perhaps a case of stomach flu, a bacteria you picked up from your children, pets, or public transportation, and so on. The lawyers who defend such cases have a ready arsenal of potential arguments.

Be sure to take careful notes as soon as you begin to suspect a case of food poisoning. The more details you can record—including time of day and symptoms—the more opportunity you'll give a medical expert to help bolster your case. What's more, careful preparation of evidence looks much more convincing in court than broad statements such as, "It was gross, I felt sick for hours, I'll spare you the details, which I don't really remember now anyway."

The task of identifying the food culprit will be easier, of course, if many other people were also made ill after eating the same thing. If you had dinner with friends, definitely check in with them to see who ate the same dishes as you did and whether they also experienced symptoms. Make a record of your conversation with them, or better yet, ask them to email you as many details as they're comfortable sharing.

Who Can Help You Gather Evidence?

You aren't necessarily alone in this process. For starters, your task will become easier if a government health agency steps in and traces an outbreak of food poisoning to a particular source. Contact your local health department to check on recent outbreaks, or any associated with the restaurant in question.

Also, once you hire an attorney and file a personal injury lawsuit, the lawyer can commence what's called "discovery," in which they obtain relevant company documents and interview restaurant managers, staff, or others with knowledge of or responsibility for the food you were served.

Proving That the Contamination Was What Made You Sick

You will also need to prove that your illness was, in fact, caused by the contaminated food. Small amounts of contamination found in food don't necessarily sicken everyone, not to mention that you could have picked up the bacteria or toxin from some other source.

Scientific testing to determine the particular type of disease-causing microbes that were present in the contaminated food can be critically important, because it can provide solid evidence linking the contaminated product with your illness.

One way to establish this critical link is to visit your doctor and have urine, stool, or blood samples scientifically tested for food poisoning. If you can show that your test sample contained the same disease-causing microbes that were found in the contaminated food source, you will greatly strengthen your claim. Asking the doctor for a letter or records diagnosing food poisoning will also help. If you brought home leftovers, you could also have these tested for contamination.

Who Is Liable for Giving Me Food Poisoning?

Now that we've covered what you'll need to be able to prove in your food poisoning lawsuit, who will you name as a defendant in your lawsuit? As a general principle in so-called product liability cases like these, you'll want to include any and all parties involved in the chain of distribution (the path that the product takes from the manufacturer to distribution to customers). In food poisoning cases, you'll need to trace the contamination to its source; anyone involved in the chain of distribution of a food product at or after the point of contamination could potentially be found legally liable.

The chain of distribution in a food poisoning case is typically made up of the food processing company (such as a slaughterhouse, bakery, or farm), the retailer (such as a grocery store or restaurant), and any number of suppliers, wholesalers, and distributors in between. Learn more about who to sue in a product liability case.

If it looks like you have a viable food poisoning lawsuit, an attorney will have the expertise (and most likely, a talented investigator or two) to properly analyze the chain of distribution and identify appropriate defendants. Get tips on getting help from a personal injury lawyer.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Product Liability attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you