A Chipotle restaurant on Tripleseven Road in Sterling, Virginia shut down yesterday after numerous customers reported becoming ill after eating there recently. The website iwaspoisoned.com shows 10 reports of customers falling ill after eating at this Chipotle location in the last few days. The reports all indicate customers ate at this Chipotle on Friday or Saturday, and became ill over the weekend with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Quite a few of the reports indicate the symptoms and illness were “violent.” Not pleasant.
What is also not pleasant is that food poisoning is the result of contaminated food. So somewhere between the farm and your mouth, someone or something came in contact with your food that contaminated it with bacteria or a virus.
Making matters even worse for Chipotle, is that even though this was a local event, the national media has picked up the story, including CBS News, Huffington Post, and of course the Washington Post. So now, what was likely a problem caused by one employee’s failure to follow appropriate safe food handling procedures (failing to wash hands, coming to work sick, failing to keep food at appropriate temperatures), Chipotle is facing nationwide outrage.
From a legal standpoint, while the law often provides the victims of food poisoning a legal remedy, such cases are often not worth the victim’s or a lawyer’s time. Some cases of food poisoning produce severe, long-lasting effects, or even death. But that’s unusual. Most cases of food poisoning produce significant, but short-term, symptoms with no lasting effect.
Legal damages in a personal injury case usually consist of medical expenses, lost wages, other expenses, and pain and suffering. For most food poisoning cases, the victim has a few hours/days of severe gastrointestinal symptoms and then they return to good health. Often, victims don’t seek medical attention for these symptoms. For a case like this, the legal damages are just not significant enough to get an attorney involved.
This is not much solace for people who suffer from events like what happened at Chipotle last week. So what can you do? Here are some tips for what to do if you think you suffered food poisoning from a restaurant where you recently ate:
First step, immediately notify the restaurant that you have become ill and you believe it is the result of eating their food. Quick notice is critical in food poisoning cases for two reasons: (1) any evidence of the cause of your illness will be long gone more than a couple days after your dining experience, and (2) quick notice gives the restaurant an opportunity to prevent other people from getting sick. When you notify a restaurant of illness connected to your dining experience, a good manager will immediately take action to try to prevent other customers from consuming contaminated food. If you can’t physically make the call, have a friend or family member notify the restaurant for you.
Second, notify your local health department. If you got sick, your fellow diners are likely to be getting sick as well. The health department is the place into which this information funnels. Unlike what you see on TV, food poisoning is common enough where its unlikely that there is going to be any forensic or chemical testing at the restaurant to determine the source of the contamination. Instead, the source of food poisoning is often identified because multiple people report food-poisoning-like symptoms after eating at the same place. The local health department is the place that connects these dots. This is how the Chipotle in Sterling was identified as the source of these peoples illness.
Third, if you do seek medical treatment, the restaurant who’s food made you ill may be able to provide you some help for your medical expenses. Many commercial insurance policies include some form of medical payments coverage. Often this form of insurance is paid quickly and without regard to whether you can prove the restaurant is legally liable. So if you sought medical treatment for food poisoning, ask the restaurant if they have medical payments coverage that might help pay your medical bills. But keep in mind that medical payments coverage will not compensate you for your pain and suffering.
Reports say that the Chipotle in Sterling, Virginia at the center of this outbreak will re-open and be serving burritos by Thursday this week.