Personal Injury From Food Poisoning

When you visit a restaurant, the last thing on your mind is likely to be food poisoning. But unfortunately, it does happen and when it does it can leave you not only with a great deal of suffering but also with financial losses such as lost income. This article provides an introduction to your rights if that unfortunate event should occur.

How a restaurant liable for food poisoning
If something is wrong with the food at a restaurant even if it doesn’t amount to poisoning, the first thing most people would do is to make a simple complaint. Sometimes this might result in a reduction in the bill or perhaps a free drink or two depending on the fault. But don’t forget that if you’re buying the food, you’ll have entered into a contract with the restaurant. What this means is that the restaurant is then contractually obliged to provide you with what you agreed and failure to do so can amount to a breach of the contract.

The legal standard of restaurant food: it must be of satisfactory quality
As well as any explicit terms of the contract, if you were acting as a consumer and the restaurant as a business then section 14(2) of The Sale of Goods Act 1979 implies a term that the goods will be of satisfactory quality. What’s more, section 14(2B) provides that quality includes “fitness for all the purposes for which goods of the kind in question are commonly supplied”. So if the goods are not of satisfactory quality then you’re not asking any sort of favour or merely relying upon goodwill by seeking redress. Instead, you can look to enforce your contractual rights.
In addition to contract, there may also be a claim for negligence, particularly for those who didn’t actually pay for the food.

Consumer Protection Act 1987
Another avenue for a potential claim is The Consumer Protection Act 1987 which imposes what lawyers call strict liability if particular circumstances are satisfied. This allows claims against the producer of the food, those who add their own label onto food and also importers. It can also potentially apply to the supplier if they fail to answer a request for details about the groups set out above for the particular product. To prove liability the food have had a defect which is satisfied “if the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect”.

Proving food poisoning was caused by a restaurant
A very important consideration with all types of claim is the need to prove that the food in question in fact caused the injury. Evidence as to the injury might include a doctor’s report and even a report on a stool sample which had been sent off for analysis. Then evidence might need to be gathered about the restaurant itself and a link sought for the particular type of bacteria in question. In this respect, bear in mind that there are various pieces of health and safety legislation which govern restaurants and food more generally. These include The Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended) which is enforced by Environmental Health Officers working for local authorities. So if you want to bring a claim it might be worth considering making contact with such an officer.

Level of compensation awarded for food poisoning can depend on your lawyer
If the claim is a serious one then a restaurant might well pass it on to its insurers and the claim could become more formalised. But if the food poisoning was very minor and there were no other losses then it might well be that the restaurant simply wants to settle the claim and avoid further ill will and bad publicity. Indeed this might well be the case in any event given the potential adverse effect on business of defending and losing such a claim. Either way, these claims can sometimes be quite technical, particularly in relation to evidence and so this is an area where an experienced legal practitioner might well be able to add real value.

Please note that this article is correct as at 1 September 2013. It does not constitute nor is any substitute for legal advice. Any Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of OPSI and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.

Comment on this article