Last month, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an interesting and important opinion in a Georgia product liability case that changed the way lower courts will analyze food-poisoning cases in the future. Although the appeals court allowed the case to proceed to trial, the evidence connecting the caterer to the poisoning is weak and will likely fail at trial.
WHAT MAKES A WORKABLE FOOD POISONING CASE?
You start with the eternal question of “so what?” If the harm was just vomiting and a trip to the ER, ask for the ER bill to be paid and move on. Yes they may be responsible, but life goes on and they certainly did not intend it.
If you have a hospital admission or anything more serious, then there is a point to moving to the analysis of what caused it.
In order to carry a strong case, the hospital needs to take a stool sample to determine the kind of food poisoning and the particular strain. That data can then be compared to the source food to conclusively show what caused it. Food poisoning usually take 2.5-4 hours to set in, so if it happens quickly, it’s likely not from that meal.
The Facts of the Case
The case dealt with the burden a Georgia food poisoning plaintiff has to meet in a defense motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that Georgia food poisoning plaintiffs should be held to no higher a standard than any other plaintiff who brings a case based on a theory of negligence.
The plaintiffs were a man and woman who became violently ill after consuming food that had been prepared by the defendant caterer at a wedding rehearsal dinner.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, challenging the plaintiffs’ case on the basis of causation. Essentially, the caterer claimed that the plaintiffs were “unable to show that their alleged food poisoning was proximately caused by defendant.” In support of this argument, the caterer pointed to the fact that the plaintiffs ate food from numerous other places in between the time they consumed the defendant’s food and the time they became ill. Additionally, the defendant argued the fact that none of the defendant’s employees, the event staff employees, or the other rehearsal dinner guests became ill after eating the food.
The plaintiffs presented evidence that about 16 to 20 other guests got sick after eating the food at the rehearsal dinner, and that guests who ate only at the wedding reception – which was not catered by the defendant – did not get sick. The plaintiffs also presented evidence that at least one other guest also tested positive for salmonella.
The trial court granted the caterer’s motion, after determining that the plaintiff was unable to “exclude every other reasonable hypothesis regarding the cause of their illness.” The plaintiffs appealed the case up to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The High Court’s Opinion
The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendant, holding that the court applied the incorrect legal standard during a summary judgment proceeding. The court explained that, in order to survive a defense motion for summary judgement, the plaintiff must only establish that there is a “genuine issue as to any material fact.” By requiring the plaintiffs to exclude every other potential cause of their illness, the court held that the trial court applied too burdensome a standard.
Here, the court held, the plaintiff’s circumstantial evidence supported a finding that the defendant’s food made them ill. This was directly contrary to the defendant’s evidence – which was also circumstantial – supporting a finding that the defendant’s food was not the cause of the plaintiff’s illness. That being the case, the court determined that the plaintiffs’ evidence created a genuine issue of fact regarding the causation element, and thus summary judgment was inappropriate.
Have You Recently Gotten Food Poisoning?
If you or a loved one has recently had to deal with a nasty bout of food poisoning that you believe was caused by unsanitary or otherwise unsafe food, contact Attorney Christopher M. Simon. Attorney Simon is a dedicated Georgia personal injury lawyer with extensive experience handling all types of injury claims, including Georgia food poisoning and other product liability claims. To learn more about how attorney Simon can help you with your case, call 404-259-7635 to schedule a free consultation today.
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