Food poisoning is probably one of the most unpleasant illnesses one can have. Some may be only laid up for a few days feeling miserable, but then otherwise return to normal. In other cases, though, one may suffer serious consequences – up to and including death. This is especially true for young children, the elderly and those whose immunity is compromised.
When food poisoning is caused by the negligence of another person or entity (restaurant, grocery store, delivery truck company, food truck operator, nursing home, hospital, hotel, cruise ship, etc.), plaintiff may pursue a claim for damages. These cases can be challenging for the fact they are usually based largely on circumstantial evidence. That’s because the type of bacteria that typically causes food poisoning – salmonella, norovirus, Listeria and E. coli – can be be found on a range of different foods in a range of scenarios. There is often no way to know 100 percent for certain that an illness was caused by the food alleged.
Our Orlando food poisoning attorneys however can help build a case by producing evidence to meet the burden of proof, which in these cases is a “preponderance of the evidence.” In short, this means showing it was more likely than not that a particular fact or event occurred as alleged. That’s a lower standard than what we use in criminal cases, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So if a juror thinks there is a 51 percent chance events occurred as you alleged, you have met your proof burden.
Recently, in an out-of-state food poisoning cases, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the appellate court ruling, which held that plaintiffs in food poisoning cases were involved in a unique type of negligence case that involved a higher proof burden than others.
Plaintiffs attended a wedding rehearsal dinner catered and served by a local BBQ restaurant. Afterward, they fell ill. They filed a food poisoning injury lawsuit alleging product liability on the basis the food was defective and pathogen-laden and also that the catering company had been negligent with food preparation in under-cooking the food. They also alleged numerous dinner dishes, dessert and alcohol had been improperly stored at adequately cool temperatures.
After presenting evidence during discovery, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing plaintiffs failed to present evidence that every other possible cause had been ruled out. There was a delay between the time they consumed the food and the time they become ill, and there were several other meals consumed in that window. Defense also argued no one else got sick from eating the food.
Plaintiffs objected to the motion, pointing out they had approximately 20 witnesses testifying to falling ill after eating the BBQ wedding reception meal. Further, several of those guests got sick even though they had eaten the meal at the rehearsal dinner, but not at the wedding reception – establishing evidence of causation. Plaintiffs argued that causation, like negligence is an issue for the jury to decide and there was a genuine issue of material fact.
Trial court, however, ruled that plaintiffs had failed to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis for their illness, as was the precedent in other court cases in the state. That ruling was affirmed by a split appellate court, with even the majority noting it placed a “heavy burden” on plaintiffs, but that such a rule was necessary to prevent all but those food poisoning cases where there is a clear link between the defendant’s food and plaintiff’s injuries. The state supreme court reversed.
The court ruled that a food poisoning case relying primarily on circumstantial evidence can survive summary judgment if they can show other theories were less probable than the one presented. That was the case here, and certain evidence against the defendant was not uncontradicted. Plaintiffs in food poisoning cases, the court ruled, could not be held to a higher proof burden than those in other injury lawsuits.
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Patterson v. Kevon, LLC, Aug. 20, 2018, Georgia Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Food Poisoning Lawsuits Against Restaurants Can Lead to Substantial Verdicts, July 24, 2018, Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer Blog