Unfortunately, several times a year we hear of people suffering serious illnesses or death as a result of foodborne illnesses. We have recently seen a salmonella outbreak linked to raw tomatoes and peppers. An E Coli outbreak associated with a popular fast food restaurant left more than 700 people ill and 4 children dead.
Unfortunately, not all contaminated foods just make us sick for a day or so. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) is a serious, and sometimes deadly, disease caused by destruction of red blood cells resulting in kidney failure. It predominantly, but not exclusively, effects children and is caused by E. coli, which is acquired as a foodborne illness. It is a true medical emergency. There are other foodborne bacteria that have serious consequences also.
Substantial legal risks exist for those producers and distributors who sell or distribute contaminated foods. Under the well-established rule of strict liability, a manufacturer can be held liable to a person who is injured where its product (the food or drink) was defective (contaminated), used as intended (ingested or eaten) and caused injury. It has nothing to do with the care used by the producer or the manufacturer and, thus, negligence is not required to recover damages. This is called the doctrine of strict liability, and it is a powerful tool in litigation against those responsible for producing, distributing or serving contaminated food which results in serious injury or worse.
There seems to be no end to the variety of foods or products that can result in injury through contamination. We have seen where a Chinese restaurant was the source of an E. coli outbreak as a result of its buffet-style serving of jello dessert, which was predominantly selected by children rather than adults. It was determined that the jello was contaminated from raw meat juices dripping on the jello while solidifying in the refrigerator.
We have seen restaurants become liable for injuries as a result of raw eggs being stored in a single bucket overnight, which allowed bacteria contamination from a single egg to exponentially contaminate larger amounts of foods, which placed many of the restaurant’s customers at risk.
A company that produced high-end fresh food items on the West Coast was found culpable as a result of a shigella outbreak that was traced to the presence of rodents near its food production site at the ocean café. Shigella is an infectious disease that poses particular risk to young children.
State and local health laws, including periodic inspections, have significantly reduced the number of serious injuries, or worse, which can result from contaminated foods; however, still too often persons are severely injured – with a high incidence of injuries occurring to children – as a result of contaminated foods served in public restaurants or distributed by shops and stores. The doctrine of strict liability is a powerful tool to pave the way to justice for those injured from contaminated food and drink.