Illinois Food Poisoning Cases
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness. Foodborne illnesses can quickly develop into serious illnesses with severe complications and may even cause death. This year alone, over 128,000 people will become hospitalized as a result of food poisoning, and over 3,000 people will die. Although most food poisoning cases resolve quickly without medical treatment, more severe cases require hospitalization to prevent life-threatening injuries and death.
If you suspect you have suffered food poisoning, it is important that you seek medical attention and receive a proper medical evaluation as soon as possible.What are the symptoms of food poisoning?
According to the CDC, you should consult a physician if you have experienced the following symptoms after eating contaminated food:
- Stomach cramps
One of the most important facts in any food poisoning case is the length of time that it takes for symptoms to appear. Each type of foodborne illness has its own incubation pattern (time necessary to manifest symptoms of food poisoning). The typical time period in which an individual will experience the onset of symptoms following exposure to a foodborne bacterium varies greatly; in some cases, a person may begin to experience symptoms in 30 minutes, whereas in other cases symptoms may not occur until 36 hours after exposure. The incubation period necessary can range drastically depending on the type of bacteria present. For example, individuals infected with salmonella may experience onset of symptoms 12 to 72 hours after exposure, whereas individuals infected with listeria may not experience onset of symptoms until 1 to 4 weeks after exposure. The incubation period must correlate to the timing of the onset of symptoms to successfully prove that a given pathogen was introduced by consuming the food in question.What are the types of bacteria that cause food poisoning?
There are 9 types of bacteria that can cause a severe foodborne illness.
Norovirus is a virus that causes inflammation to the stomach and/or intestines (also called acute gastroenteritis). Norovirus is the leading cause of illness from contaminated foods in the United States. Norovirus outbreaks generally occur from food workers touching food with their bare hands before serving them, but can also occur from foods that are contaminated at their source. The common symptoms of Norovirus are diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, fever, headaches, and body aches. The typical incubation period for Norovirus is 12 to 48 hours.
Salmonella, the most common type of food poisoning, consists of a group of bacteria. Salmonella is caused by consuming uncooked food, such as eggs, chicken, unpasteurized milk, and raw fruits and vegetables. The common symptoms of Salmonella are diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and in some cases, joint pain. The typical incubation period for Salmonella is 12 to 72 hours. Most cases of Salmonella resolve in a couple of days without any medical treatment, but in some cases, Salmonella can cause reactive arthritis, which can last for months or years.
Clostridium pefringens is a bacterium found in the environment and the intestines of humans and animals. The bacterium produces a toxin inside the intestine that causes illness. Food poisoning from Clostridium pefringens is caused by consuming raw meat and poultry that has been prepared in large quantities and kept warm for long periods of time before serving. Common symptoms of Clostridium pefringens are diarrhea and abdominal cramps. It does not generally cause fever or vomiting. The typical incubation period for Clostridium pefringens is 6 to 24 hours.
Campylobacter is a bacterium which causes bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Campylobactor is caused by consuming raw or undercooked poultry, dairy products, and untreated water. Most cases of Campylobacter resolve within one week of exposure, however, if the Campylobacter bacteria spreads to the bloodstream, it can cause a life-threatening infection. In some cases, Campylobacter can cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can lead to muscle weakness, paralysis, permanent nerve damage, and death.
Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium found on the skin and noses of humans and animals. People can become infected with Staphylococcus aureus by consuming uncooked food contaminated by food handlers who have not washed their hands and by unpasteurized milk and cheese products. People infected with Staphylococcus aureus experience symptoms of vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. The typical incubation period for Staphylococcus aureus is 30 minutes to 6 hours.
Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that grows on food and produces a toxin which can cause paralysis and death. Symptoms of Clostridium botulinum include: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, double vision, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, muscle weakness, paralysis, and body aches. Most cases of Clostridium botulinum resolve within 10 days; however, full recovery can take several months. Most people infected with Clostridium botulinum never fully recover.
Shig toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli):
E. coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. E. coli can become dangerous by producing a toxin called the Shiga toxin. Symptoms of E. coli food poisoning include severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. The typical incubation period for E. coli is 3 to 4 days, but can range from 1 day up to 10 days after exposure. E. coli food poisoning is caused by consumption of contaminated food such as unpasteurized milk, untreated water, unpasteurized apple cider, soft cheeses made from raw milk, and undercooked meat.
Vibrio is a bacterium which causes illness when a person consumes raw or undercooked shellfish, such as oysters. Most cases of Vibrio resolve after a couple of days. In some cases, people infected with Vibrio can become seriously ill and require intensive care or limb amputation. The CDC estimates that about 1 in 4 people infected with Vibrio die, usually within a couple of days of becoming ill.
Klebsiella Pneumoniae is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. Klebsiella Pneumoniae is typically not dangerous, but can become dangerous if it spreads to other parts of the body. A person can obtain Klebsiella Pneumoniae food poisoning by ingesting contaminated meats, such as chicken and beef. A recent report found that 14 percent of 316 chicken samples tested were positive for Klebsiella. An additional study found that 47 percent of 508 meat products purchased from nine major grocery stores were contaminated with Klebisella, with many strains being antibiotic-resistant. Symptoms of Klebsiella Pneumoniae include fever, cough, breathing difficulty, confusion, stiffness, and light sensitivity. In rare cases, Klebsiella Pneumoniae can cause life-threatening sepsis.
Although minor cases of food poisoning may resolve in a short amount of time, severe cases may require a physician’s intervention so complications from the food poisoning do not spread to other body organs and cause permanent damage. Physicians can test for bacteria that cause food poisoning through blood or stool samples. The treatment needed will depend upon the type of bacteria. In some cases, treatment may simply require hydration, while in other cases, a more in-depth care may be needed, including hospitalization and possibly surgery.What are the complications that can occur?
If left untreated, food poisoning can spread throughout an individual’s body and cause serious illness. Common complications from food poisoning include:
- Life-threatening blood infections
- Permanent nerve damage
Treatment of food poisoning varies depending on the type of foodborne illness an individual is infected with. Treatment may include:
- Antitoxin medication
- Ventilator use
- Intravenous fluids and electrolyte replacement
- Surgical intervention
In Illinois, food poisoning claims may arise under strict product liability, breach of warranty, and negligence theories.
- Strict Product Liability:
Under the product liability classification, the legal theory claimed is that the food contained “manufacturing” defects, i.e., the food was handled, prepared, cooked, and/or served in a defective and dangerous condition. See e.g., Warren v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Chicago, 166 Ill. App. 3d 566 (1
- Breach of Warranty:
Illinois law imposes upon a restaurant keeper the duty of an implied warranty that the food he serves and sells to his patrons is wholesome and fit to be eaten, and he will be liable if it proves otherwise, whether he was negligent or not. Greenwood v. John R. Thompson Company, 213 Ill.App. 371 (1919); Sweany and Maloney v. Walgreen Co., Inc., 323 Ill.App. 439, 55 N.E.2d 723 (1944).
Illinois law imposes a duty of every restaurant operator or food service organization to act in the exercise of reasonable caution to protect patrons from becoming ill. In addition, cases of food poisoning from sealed products, like store-bought grocery items, Illinois courts have held that an injured party may also establish liability against a manufacturer of a sealed food product on the basis of negligence, since the law imposes upon every manufacturer a duty to adequately prepare, inspect, and package the product produced. Warren v. Coca–Cola Bottling Co. of Chicago, 166 Ill.App.3d 566, 572, 117 Ill.Dec. 30, 519 N.E.2d 1197 (1988).
Thus, in a food poisoning complaint, a plaintiff may choose to plead three separate counts: 1) strict products liability, 2) negligence, and 3) breach of warranty of wholesomeness. (Attached is an example of a food poisoning complaint filed against a restaurant by our law firm in an Illinois food poisoning lawsuit). In order to prevail on a food poisoning case, a plaintiff must show that the food was dangerous, the “manufacturer” (the person or entity preparing and cooking the food) had control over the food’s dangerous condition, and the food caused the plaintiff’s injuries.What steps should I take if I suspect food poisoning?
- Seek medical attention in a hospital emergency room, where tests can be performed.
- Report the incident to the restaurant and local health department. DuPage County’s Health Department has an online form to fill out to report food poisoning.
- Keep records, such as receipts and credit card statements. If possible, place the unconsumed portion of the suspected contaminated food in a ziplock bag and store in a freezer for testing.
- Be careful not to speak to any insurance representative before consulting with legal counsel.
In a food poisoning case, you, as the plaintiff, bear the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, to show that the tainted food in question caused the illness you suffered. Food poisoning cases are sometimes difficult to prove due to inconsistencies or variances in a patient’s history (i.e., how long it was reported that symptoms of illness began), or simply due to the disposable nature of the food product itself. The restaurant and its insurance company will want to be able to test the food for different pathogens that cause food poisoning. However, food, especially if consumed at a restaurant, is likely to be thrown away immediately after consumption and may no longer be available to be tested. If the subject food is not available, how can a plaintiff prove food poisoning? One way in which food poisoning can be proven is by showing a history of the restaurant’s careless food-handling practices through health department inspection reports, prior customer complaints, and evidence of unsafe food-handling practices. This additional evidence can assist by demonstrating a history, or pattern and practice, of negligence in the handling, storage, preparation, and service of food by the restaurant and its staff. In evaluating a food poisoning case, our firm looks for evidence of improper food-handling and storage practices, such as cross-contamination of food products, failure to maintain a food preparation and storage log, failure to use a cooking thermometer, and failure to implement and follow a proper food quality inspection system.What types of monetary “damages” can be recovered in food poisoning claims?
You should be aware of the types of damages that are legally compensable, and what amount of damages a court or jury is likely to award. You may be entitled to:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Valuable lost time from work
- Painful disfigurement
- Loss of a normal life, and
- Pain and suffering (including past, present and future)
Food poisoning should not be ignored. If you have suffered food poisoning, seek medical attention and speak to one of the knowledgeable Illinois food poisoning attorneys at John J. Malm & Associates.Contact Attorney John J. Malm
John J. Malm & Associates is an experienced personal injury law firm representing individuals and families who have suffered an injury or loss due to an accident. You may be entitled to a substantial settlement if you have been injured. Call 630-527-4177, or 312-422-6855, and speak with Illinois food poisoning lawyer, John J. Malm.