What Are Your Options To Make Sure Others Don’t Suffer The Same Fate?
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know first-hand how awful it is. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that it’s not an experience you want to have twice. But does that mean you can sue for it in the Province of Ontario?
Barring a serious case that leads to death, at which point you could possibly sue for wrongful death, it’s unlikely that the injury caused from a single bout of food poisoning is going to be strong enough for you to build a case. But there are some instances where you could…
Let’s do a deeper dive into food poisoning and its relationship to personal injury law.
What Is Food Poisoning?
Basically, food poisoning is an illness you contract by eating food is contaminated. Contamination could be the result of many things including bacteria, toxins, viruses and parasites.
Food poisoning can start within hours of ingesting the contaminated food and results in symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and possibly fever, as well. Luckily, most cases of food poisoning are fairly minor but if you experience high fever and / or diarrhea for three days or if there is blood in your stools, you need to see a doctor. Particularly if you are immunocompromised in some way, are very young or elderly, you may be affected more severely than someone who is generally healthy.
What Are The Regulations Surrounding Food Handling And Safety?
In Ontario, there are fairly stringent food safety regulations and inspection processes for restaurants, cafes and stores.
Food service businesses must have at least one employee who has their Food Handler Certificate on site during open hours of operation, at all times. Ideally, a food service business would require all of its food handlers to get and maintain certification, but that’s not always the case.
Inspections can occur at any time, without notice—run through local health authorities—and involve a pretty strict evaluation, including the following:
- Food temperature control
- Protection of food from contamination
- Employee hygiene (including hand washing)
- Maintenance and sanitation of food contact surfaces and equipment
- Maintenance and sanitation of non-food contact surfaces and equipment (walls, for example)
- Maintenance and sanitation of washrooms
- Waste removal and storage
- Pest control
You’ve probably seen the DineSafe certificates in windows of various establishments. Green means they’ve passed an inspection involving the above evaluation points. Yellow means they’ve had an inspection and have passed on condition of rectifying some infractions. Red means they’ve been deemed unsafe because of several serious infractions and have been closed.
If you want to know when your favourite restaurant was last inspected and what the results were, you can check online. In Hamilton, go to www.foodsafetyzone.ca or in Toronto, visit https://www.toronto.ca/health/dinesafe/index.htm
What Should You Do If You Get Food Poisoning?
If you have had a very serious case of food poisoning, one that sent you the emergency room and resulted in permanent injury, significant time off work, or an inability to do your job moving forward, you should definitely speak to a personal injury lawyer.
Make sure that you document everything including the food service location you visited, what you purchased and ate, what anyone with you purchased and ate and if they had any reaction to it, with dates and times.
Your lawyer will likely check into the food service locations, and their DineSafe inspection results, to see if there is a history of issues with the location that you claim caused your illness.
Legal Standing In Food Poisoning Cases
While we hear about food poisoning suits from south of the border quite frequently (you might remember a case in the US a couple of years back where the chain of restaurants Chipotle caused an E. coli outbreak that resulted in 21 people going to hospital, with over 55 people infected across eleven states (source) which resulted in lawsuits being filed.)
Even in America, the bulk of these suits are likely still pending, but what it came down to in the decision to move forward, was the sheer number of people who were involved in these cases.
On either side of the border, victim numbers like we saw in the Chipolte case will make a more compelling case than if one person claims they were given food poisoning by visiting a restaurant one time.
The issue for claimants will always be that it is difficult to pinpoint the source of food poisoning since it’s not an immediate reaction. You could have acquired a norovirus bug from a variety of places so placing the blame squarely on the restaurant you ate lunch at might be difficult.
The legal test will include whether there was negligence involved on the part of the vendor and whether that negligence caused your poisoning. Did the restaurant owner keep the meat you ate in a refrigeration unit that wasn’t functioning properly at the time, for example? That is a solid causality link.
Another part of the test is whether you suffered from the negligence. Did you have to miss work and lose wages for a considerable time? Did the food poisoning cause other health effects, for example, an inability to do your job in the future. These are all important questions in determining the legal standing of your case.
Minor cases of food poisoning where causality is hard to determine, and the injury is minimal, simply won’t stand up.
But if you, or someone you know, has been ill and suffered significant and possibly even permanent damage from an incident of food poisoning, you should consult a personal injury lawyer to see what your options may include.