What is a Food Allergy and Can it Lead to a Lawsuit?
August 5, 2019 | Personal Injury
Most of us have heard the term ‘food allergy’ or have had friends, family, or co-workers mention that they are allergic to certain foods.
But what exactly is a food allergy and how could it result in a lawsuit?
A food allergy is a negative reaction that the body has when certain foods are consumed or the individual is exposed to the food.
Large portions of the population are affected by food allergies, and these allergies can be present at birth, or they can develop over time.
Not all persons have food allergies; in the cases that do exist, each individual type of allergy may be different from the next.
This means that two people can be allergic to peanuts but they can have drastically different reactions when they are exposed to peanuts.
Some types of food that people are commonly allergic to include:
- Wheat products
- And more
Symptoms of Food Allergies
As already stated, food allergy symptoms are quite diverse and can vary in the type of symptoms and their severity.
Common food allergy symptoms can include: digestive disorders, skin rashes, difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling of the face, and other symptoms similar to food poisoning cases.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies are responsible for approximately 30,000 emergency room visits per year…
For anyone dealing with a food sensitivity issue, it’s important to know what’s in your food.
Under the The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), food ingredient labeling laws were modified in 2004 (and went into effect in 2006) to require clearer labelling regarding the eight most common food allergens, which have been found to comprise 90 percent of all food allergies.
These laws apply to packaged foods, but not to food items that are made to order—such as food served in a restaurant” (Judy Malmon).
Many people who have food allergies spend a lot of time scrutinizing the ingredient lists on every product they buy to try and ensure they are not consuming something that can make them sick or that could possibly kill them.
These same individuals also have to be paranoid and tedious about ingredients and preparations of food when they eat out.
When something happens and an allergy food is consumed, due to no fault of the individual but rather some third party involved then there may often times be ground for a food allergy lawsuit to go to court!
What are Food Allergy Lawsuits?
Food allergy lawsuits may be filed if one party suffers injuries due to a food allergy.
These types of claims usually involve the negligent serving or preparing of food.
In restaurant settings, the most common way these kinds of lawsuits occur is someone with a disclosed allergy is served something they are allergic to by someone in the restaurant.
Also, a lawsuit can arise when food is prepared and served and the label misrepresented the ingredients us in the meal or failed to disclose certain allergy prone ingredients- such as nuts.
Different parties may be liable for injuries in a food allergy lawsuit depending on the details of the case and what happened and who all was involved and these parties can include:
- Restaurant workers/owners who served allergen foods to someone who disclosed the allergy
- Hospital staff who are not careful to check or ask patients about known food allergies
- Kitchen staff at care homes or nursing homes who forget allergies or mix up dinner trays
- Food staff on airlines or cruise ships who mistakenly hand out foods during travels
- Other food service companies or restaurants who make and prepare and serve food
- Manufactured of frozen and prepared meals who don’t properly label their products
- Labeling companies to make mistakes when printing ingredient and warning labels
Basically, any business, company, or institution has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with food allergies are not aggravated by the food served to them.
On the other hand, persons who do have a food allergy must also inform such places of any food allergy that they might have.
There are two basic types of food allergy lawsuits that are most commonly see- the failure to warn lawsuit and the negligence lawsuit.
Failure to Warn
No one is actually liable for your allergies, but companies still have a reasonable responsibility to notify consumers of what is in their products and to disclose potential food allergy triggers.
They do not have to change how they make their food in order to adapt to your allergy, but these food producers do have a duty to warn customers about allergens.
The Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 ensures that food that contains high risk major allergy triggers like nuts or eggs or wheat must have a notice of such on their label.
Cosmetics and other manufacturers also have allergen labeling requirements.
When these requirements are not met, a failure to warn lawsuit is often close to follow.
Some states require restaurants to do the same and many have warning noticed on their menus, order boards, or at the counter or on the doors coming into the restaurant that warn of allergen being used.
These notices also request customers inform restaurant staff right away about any food allergies so precautions can be taken when preparing and serving their food or so they can be informed if the restaurant’s food is safe for them or not.
Restaurants in some states must also have one certified food protection manager on hand at all times who has undergone some type of state approved and controlled food allergen awareness training.
Similar situations apply to the manufacturer and labeling companies.
When packaged food is made it is the responsibility of the company making the product to warn customers about possible allergens.
All ingredients used in the dish are supposed to disclosed.
Likewise, companies that print the labels are supposed to make sure that all provided information is included and that everything on the label is easy to read.
When there are issues with labeling and ingredient disclosure, this can open up a failure to warn lawsuit against these companies.
Negligence lawsuit cases occur when someone who has a responsibility to do something for someone breaches that responsibility and causes the other harm.
A common way negligence cases happen is in a restaurant when cook or wait staff are careless and negligent with food that is served to someone with a food allergy.
Restaurants generally have to disclose high potential allergens like nuts and eggs or inform customers of ingredients in the food when requested.
If the customer discloses an allergy to say pistachio nuts and orders a slide of vanilla cream pie and it turns out pistachio nuts were used in the crust then there could be a case for legal action if the customer suffered serious injury due to the exposure.
In that situation the restaurant breached its duty to warn, the breach caused an injury, the injury was foreseeable and the harm can be quantified and compensated.
If this customer did not disclose the nut allergy but had no reason to believe there would be pistachios in the crust they could still have grounds for a lawsuit because it is outside common expectations that there would be nits in the crust of pie that mentions nothing about nuts in the name or in the menu description.
This too would likely be a case of negligence for food allergy exposure on the part of the restaurant.
The final example of how negligence can occur in a restaurant setting is where the cooks or wait staff change ingredients or add to the recipe without disclosing the new changes or when someone adds something to the dish or plate for no real reason and the additional ingredients are not disclosed.
Likewise, when staff is informed of a food allergy the dishes need to be carefully checked before serving.
If the wait staff fail to properly check the disk and do not notice the allergy food then they could in some cases be held responsible for the allergic response and injury the customer sustained due to the exposure they were negligent about checking for.
What are the Legal Option for Food Allergy Injuries?
Legal options that are available to you when it comes to pressing charges and seeking compensation for food allergy injuries is something that needs to be determined by someone with experience dealing with these types of cases.
Usually, the case aims at seeking compensation for pain and suffering as well as medical expenses that resulted from medical care needed to address the symptoms of the food allergy.
In some instances, the establishment that is found liable may be required to change how they prepare or serve food and better train their cook and wait staff, or they may be forced to redesign labels and change packaging designs.
Every year, many food allergy lawsuits are filed due to negligent serving or handling of food.
If you need assistance with any legal issues involving a food allergy, contact us today and let our team of legal experts help you form a strong case!
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