Did You Get Serious Food Poisoning? Here Is What You Need to Know About Unsafe Food Class Action Lawsuits in California

food poisoning lawsuit

Food poisoning is no fun at all. It is also surprisingly common. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million people (one in six Americans) suffer from a foodborne illness each year. For most of us, that means an unpleasant day or two of keeping close to the bathroom. However, foodborne illnesses can be get very serious. The CDC reports that roughly 128,000 Americans are hospitalized by food poisoning each year, and 3,000 die from it!

You don’t need to look any further than recent news headlines to understand how grave the situation can be. Just recently, a crop of romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona contaminated with E. coli sickened almost 200 Americans across 35 states, sent 89 to the hospital, and claimed the lives of five victims. If you get sick from a food product, what are your legal options? How can you hold the culprits responsible, and why might an unsafe food class action lawsuit be a good option for your case? Let us find out.

Your Right to Eat Safe Food

Just as businesses cannot sell you unsafe products, grocery stores and restaurants must make exercise “reasonable care” to ensure that the food they sell is not contaminated. In California, the definition of “reasonable care” is fleshed out under the California Retail Food Code in a long list of categorized regulations and guidelines for food facility owners and operators to follow. For the most part, they do an excellent job, but occasionally something slips through the cracks, whether as a result of poor management, lax processes, or employee error.

If you fall ill as a result, there are generally three legal avenues you can pursue:

  • Negligence
  • Strict Products Liability
  • Breach of Warranty


As mentioned, businesses, including food facilities, are required to make every effort to keep their products, including food, safe for their customers. There are dozens of regulations under the CA Retail Food Code, and thus dozens of ways that food facility owners, managers, operators, and staff can neglect to meet safety standards. Just a few of the broader categories include separation of raw food of animal origin from raw ready-to-eat foods, protection from cross-contamination, attention to  time and temperature relationships, and reheating and thawing of foods of animal origin. If you contract food poisoning and find that a food facility you visited violated these standards, you may be able to prove that they did not take reasonable care to provide a safe product.

Strict Products Liability

Many states have strict products liability laws, which state that a business cannot provide products that are unreasonably defective or dangerous to consumers. California, however, has some of the most comprehensive strict products liability laws in the country. California applies these laws to all products sold to the public, including food products. Additionally, it allows plaintiffs to seek damages from every single company in the “stream of commerce,” with no real apportionment of fault, meaning that every company that handles with the product, from the grower, to the manufacturer, wholesaler, and the grocery store or restaurant, can liable with being proven to be at fault. Proving that a food product caused harm because it contained a manufacturing defect, was defectively designed, or did not include sufficient instructions or warning of potential safety hazards are the first avenues to winning a case against a food facility who you believe may have caused your illness.

Breach of Warranty

In California (and many other states), all the commercial products you purchase (including food and meals) come with an “implied warranty.” This warranty is an implied promise by the seller that the product is fit for its intended use. In the case of food, that means it is safe to consume unless otherwise labeled.

When you fall ill because of a food product, you can claim that the seller breached the implied warranty that the food was safe to eat by proving several points, including that: you ate/drank a food product sold by the defendant; that when you purchased the product, the defendant was in the business of selling that product or purported to specialize in that product; and that the food product was harmful at consumption and would not reasonably be expected to be harmful by an average consumer.

Challenges of Food Poisoning Lawsuits

After a bad episode of food poisoning, you may feel highly motivated to hold the responsible parties accountable; however, there are a few points to consider before you file a claim, as mentioned above. You’ll have to prove that the defendant was negligent in their supervision of employees or in following food laws; that the food, at any point in the stream of commerce, became unfit for human consumption; or that the defendant breached the implied warranty of the food product. You will then need to prove that you became sick as a result of their actions or inactions.

It can be difficult, especially in a single case of illness, to prove which food item made you sick. It may take up to 24 hours for you to show the first symptoms of poisoning, and if you ate at different restaurants or from different facilities, the defendant may try to claim that you caught the illness somewhere else.

Even if you have a strong idea of which food item caused your illness, it can be extremely expensive for your legal team to track the approximate cause. They will have to look at every aspect of the food’s chain of distribution to pinpoint the answer. These upfront costs are likely to be more than what your single case is worth.

Because of these obstacles, seeking a class action lawsuit may be a wise choice in pursuing your case and seeking compensation.

The Benefits of a Class Action Lawsuit

Many food poisoning cases are not isolated events. From the recent romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak to a 2015 outbreak of salmonella linked to Mexican cucumbers that afflicted almost 1,000 people, widespread foodborne illnesses are unfortunately common. In these situations, it can be helpful for the victims to band together and seek a class action lawsuit. This type of lawsuit will seek damages on behalf of all the victims, helping to defray costs for their legal representation. Larger outbreaks also tend to attract the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies, which can help investigate and identify the proximate cause of the contamination.

Your Compensation

When you join a class action lawsuit, you, along with the rest of the victims in the class, can seek compensation for suffering. This includes compensation for:

  • Medical bills you incurred as a result of the illness
  • Lost wages for days missed from work
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

These damages can be serious. In 2006, an E. coli outbreak traced back to Taco Bell resulted in eight cases of kidney failure. In 2009, salmonella contamination traced back to peanut butter made by The Peanut Corporation of America contributed to the deaths of nine people!

How to Prepare for Your Case

If you were the victim of serious food poisoning and want to pursue a class action lawsuit, there are a few things you can do right now to help boost your case:

  • When you become ill, check the FSIS Recall Database to determine if a food you consumed has been recalled.
  • If possible, keep all materials related to the contaminated food, including food packaging, labeling, and the receipt from your purchase.
  • Write down as much as you can remember, including what you ate, when you ate it, and when symptoms developed.
  • Describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, including how long they lasted.
  • List all of your losses, including medical costs, days missed from work, long-term health effects, and more.
  • Collect all other relevant paperwork, including your medical records, hospital bills, and more.

Finally, reach out to an attorney that specializes in class action lawsuits and has experience in foodborne illness cases. Food poisoning class action requires expert knowledge of health, food, and safety legislation at both the federal and state level.

If you live in Southern California, contact Saba Law today to discuss your case. I want to help you get compensated for your suffering and hold food providers responsible so that they never make people sick again!

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