Can You Sue For a Food Allergic Reaction?

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 What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy can be described as when a person’s immune system reacts abnormally after they consume certain foods. Depending on the kind of negative response caused, food allergies can either be slight or severe in nature.

For instance, a person who is mildly allergic to strawberries may break out in hives if they eat one. In contrast, a person who is deathly allergic to shellfish may go into anaphylactic shock and need to be rushed to a hospital.

Food allergies may be present at birth or they can develop over time. Although large portions of the population are affected by food allergies, not every person has them. Those that do, however, may experience different symptoms than others who are allergic to the same foods. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes;
  • Digestive disorders;
  • Difficulty when breathing or swallowing;
  • Swelling of the face; and/or
  • Various reactions that are similar to those found in food poisoning cases.

Food allergy reactions are considered more serious than those associated with food intolerance (e.g., lactose intolerance). The most common types of food that people are generally allergic to include:

  • Shellfish;
  • Other forms of seafood;
  • Nuts;
  • Dairy products;
  • Eggs;
  • Soy; and
  • Items that contain wheat.

Again, some of these foods may only produce a food intolerance (e.g., wheat), not an allergy that can potentially cause a life-threatening response to occur like shellfish.

What are Food Allergy Lawsuits?

Generally speaking, a food allergy lawsuit may be filed if a person suffers injuries due to an allergic reaction to food. These types of cases usually arise from situations where food was prepared or served in a negligent manner. For example, a common mistake that occurs and will often result in a lawsuit is when a person is served food prepared with the item that they are allergic to.

Depending on the circumstances, different parties can be held liable for injuries alleged in a food allergy lawsuit. For instance, if a student suffers a reaction because of a food allergy at school, then the student may be able to bring an action against their school, the cafeteria worker, and potentially the food manufacturer or distributor.

Other types of parties who can be held responsible in a food allergy lawsuit include:

  • Restaurant workers and owners;
  • Hospital personnel;
  • Kitchen staff who work in nursing homes or other healthcare facilities aside from hospitals;
  • Food workers aboard certain methods of transportation (e.g., airlines, cruise ships, trains with dining cars, and so on); and/or
  • Manufacturers, distributors, and resellers of food, such as food companies or restaurant services.

Basically, any company, business, or institution that is linked to food and the service industry will have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with food allergies will not be affected by the food served to them or to others near them.

It should be noted, however, that people who do have a particular food allergy must also inform such places and services of their food allergy. If they do not, then this fact may reduce their damages award or prevent them from receiving damages altogether in a lawsuit because they will have contributed to their own allergic reaction.

Lastly, food allergy lawsuits may also be based on product defect legal theories. For instance, one issue that frequently comes up is when a manufacturer fails to include proper warnings on their food packaging that could cause allergic reactions. Thus, the injured person may bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer based on a claim for defects with their warning label.

What are the Steps to Take to Sue for Food Allergy?

Depending on the state and the circumstances of a case, there may be different requirements that a party will have to follow when suing for food allergy injuries. Such claims are usually based on one or some combination of the following issues:

  • A restaurant or food service was negligent in serving or preparing their food;
  • A restaurant or food service failed to warn customers or consumers about potential food allergies; and/or
  • A restaurant or food service intentionally tampered with the food.

In order to win a lawsuit that involves one or several of the above claims, the plaintiff will generally have to prove:

  • That they had a severe allergic reaction;
  • The allergic reaction was in response to the food served or consumed;
  • A restaurant or food service was negligent in their handling and serving of the food, or alternatively, failed to provide adequate warnings or intentionally tampered with the food;
  • That such actions caused the plaintiff to experience a negative allergic reaction; and
  • That this reaction resulted in physical injuries and damages.

What are the Legal Remedies for Food Allergy Injuries?

Legal remedies for food allergy injuries usually involve a compensatory or monetary damages award. This is so that the affected person can use the award to cover expenses caused by the injury, including medical bills, hospital expenses, court fees, lost wages, and other related costs.

In some cases, the plaintiff may even request that the liable party adjust their food service policies and practices. For instance, a food manufacturer that has an inadequate warning label on their food packing may be required to recall their products, so that they can apply new labels equipped with the proper warnings.

Finally, it should also be noted that it can be very difficult to obtain damages for a food allergy lawsuit. State laws and federal agency regulations (e.g., the Food and Drug Administration) can impact the outcome of a lawsuit, even in cases where liability is clear.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Food Allergy Lawsuit?

There are a number of legal remedies that a person who has suffered an injury related to a food allergy might be able to pursue. If you believe you have suffered harm due to an allergic reaction to food, then you may want to contact a local personal injury lawyer for further legal assistance. Your lawyer can inform you of your legal rights, determine whether you have a claim for damages, and discuss the potential remedies available to you.

Additionally, an experienced personal injury lawyer will know which types of claims you should bring, and how the laws in your particular area may affect the outcome of your case. Lastly, your attorney can also provide representation on your behalf in court if necessary, or during settlement negotiations.

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