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What To Do If You Believe You Have Suffered From Food Poisoning

When you eat out at a restaurant, you’re, in most cases, at the mercy of the restaurant to properly store, cook, prepare, and handle the food. As a customer, you have no way of monitoring whether the restaurant is managing these tasks in a reasonable manner. You trust them based on their reputation in the community.

You also trust them because there are laws that regulate restaurant safety. Most state health departments regulate restaurants and license them to serve food and drink, and most restaurants are required to display their health inspection certificate on the premises, certifying their compliance with these regulations.

Even though common decency and reasonable care require that these regulations are adhered to, many restaurants fail to maintain an adequate standard of care. Health inspectors often pay surprise visits to restaurants to keep them on their toes, and without knowing when a health inspection may occur, restaurant owners are further encouraged to maintain proper cooking conditions and sanitation to avoid losing their restaurant licenses.

Notwithstanding the above, millions of people get sick from food poisoning every year. Certain types of food poisoning incidences are on the rise, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual report on foodborne illness. The CDC estimates there are 48 million people per year affected by some form of foodborne illness.

Many of these cases go unreported and, therefore, undiagnosed. Additionally, many claims against restaurants are settled with confidentiality clauses to protect the restaurant’s reputation and avoid loss of business. Thus, the general public is largely uneducated about the frequency of foodborne illness and the causes that precipitate it.


This is a list of steps we recommend to any individual who believes they may have sustained a foodborne illness:

  • Seek medical attention immediately. (Serious food poisoning cases can result in serious injury, illness, and even death.) Often, severe gastroenteritis can lead to significant dehydration and, in extreme cases, organ damage and/or kidney failure.
  • Report the restaurant to your local health department and have the matter investigated. That’s what they’re there for. The health department may elect to investigate the matter, and you can often find out if there have been other similar cases reported, whether the restaurant was in violation of a health code, and other useful information. As lawyers in these cases, we have occasionally seen cases where the restaurant was warned to address a health code violation and failed to do so before someone sustained food poisoning. This should not happen, and if it does, the restaurant should be held liable for the resulting damages both to compensate the victim and ensure that future patrons don’t suffer a similar fate.
  • Report the matter to the restaurant. Often, they’ll create an incident report documenting your complaint. In most states, health and safety codes require that this is done.
  • Call a food poisoning lawyer in your state. They can help you document and, if necessary, litigate your case against the negligent restaurant.
  • Save your receipt from purchasing the food. Occasionally, it will be necessary to prove that the food originated from a particular meal, and the receipt is one way to document this.
  • Where possible, get the names and phone numbers of other individuals who may have also gotten sick or consumed the same food. It always helps to have witnesses to corroborate your case. If an entire batch of food is contaminated or conditions in the restaurant are poorly maintained to the extent that one person gets sick, it’s likely that more than one person will get sick from consuming the same batch of food. Often, it will be difficult or impossible to find out about similar incidences without serving a subpoena on the restaurant for this information. In these instances, it may be necessary to hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit for you and subpoena the information the restaurant has on who dined there and what they ordered in order to prove the claim.
  • Seek out additional information on sites like Web MD and get educated.

Things To Keep in Mind About Food Poisoning & Food Poisoning Cases, From a Legal Perspective

There are many types of food poisoning, but the main types can be categorized as stemming from one of the following:

  • Bacterial
  • Viral
  • Parasitical
  • Toxins

Bacterial cases are the most common. Symptoms can appear as early as an hour after the contaminated food is consumed but may not appear for several days. Usually, the quicker the onset of symptoms, the easier it is for physicians to diagnose the cause as foodborne illness.

Additionally, the time it takes for symptoms to appear often correlates to the amount of contaminated substance consumed by the victim. Symptoms typically include one or more of the following:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Headache
  • Extreme exhaustion (or any combination of the above)

Causation Is the Key

One of the legal complications that arise in a food poisoning case is proving causation. That is, in order to prevail in a food poisoning claim, it will be necessary to connect the consumption of the contaminated food to the contraction of the symptoms. As such, a great number of these cases turn on this issue.

Since there are literally hundreds of possible ways to contract a foodborne illness, you should probably speak with an attorney if you believe you’ve been the victim of the same. The attorney can help you determine if there is sufficient evidence to support a claim against the offending restaurant. Without proper documentation and evidence to support your claim, it’s likely the restaurant will dispute the causation of your illness.

Accordingly, if you believe you have been the victim of food poisoning in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC, and would like to speak with an attorney to determine if you have a claim, do not hesitate to call us. Our injury lawyers handle these types of legal matters and food poisoning injury claims throughout the Baltimore–Washington area.

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