Steps for suing for food poisoning in Nigeria
To be clear, when we say, ‘food poisoning’ we aren’t talking about a situation where someone intentionally introduces a substance into your food to cause you serious harm or to kill you. That’s attempted murder, and in that situation, you will have to report to the police as it is a crime.
Food poisoning refers to a wide variety of food-borne illnesses which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, mould, fungi, parasites, etc. For example, you can get food poisoning in the form of salmonella – a bacterium transmitted in undercooked poultry. You can also get food poisoning from pesticides on produce that hasn’t been adequately washed. Mild food poisoning can cause discomfort, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Severe food poisoning can cause permanent damage to the organs, and in some cases, even death.
Under what law can you sue for food poisoning?
The main protection is under the tort of Negligence. Negligence is an action in the law of torts. In simple terms, if Person A has a duty of care to Person B, if this duty has been breached and damage has occurred, Person B can sue.
To be able to sue under negligence, an individual must prove that the defendant (either a restaurant or a company that manufactures food) did, in fact, cause the food poisoning. Proving causation is often difficult in cases of food poisoning. Not only must you prove that you suffered from food poisoning, you must also prove that it was the food/drink in question and not food/drink from somewhere else that caused the illness. The source of the contamination must be isolated and identified, and this involves consulting a doctor and running tests.
To proceed therefore you will need get a doctor to run a few tests. Once you cross the medical report hurdle and can prove that the food/drink did indeed cause the illness, then the next hurdle to cross is that you have suffered some form of damage. This is easy to prove if you became ill after consuming the food/drink. Only someone who suffered damage can sue. Damage is a key element in suing in negligence.
Once you can prove that you suffered damage, then these are the possible things you could try to claim for in a lawsuit:
- medical bills
- lost income (if unable to work while ill)
- out-of-pocket expenses (this would include transport fare to the hospital, phone calls to doctors, cost of running the tests etc.)
- pain and suffering, and
- emotional distress.
SHOULD YOU SUE FOR FOOD POISONING?
Lawsuits are time-consuming and can be expensive. You’ll need to evaluate whether it’s financially (and emotionally) worth it to pursue your claim. Once you decide to pursue a claim, you need to move quickly. The evidence for a food poisoning case is, by its nature, short-lived. The sooner you start gathering evidence, the better.
Apart from the things mentioned above that you might be able to claim (medical expenses, lost work etc.), if the court finds that the restaurant/manufacturer acted with gross negligence, you may also be entitled to what is known as “exemplary” damages. Exemplary damages are not linked to a cost that you incurred, they’re just a punishment for the defendant. Gross negligence may occur where a restaurant/manufacturer has been notified of an issue which could have caused the food poisoning, but has failed to act.
If you are one of those people who would never sue for food poisoning, but would like to take some action if it ever happens to you, you can take the following steps:
REPORT THE RESTAURANT TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LG)
The LG is largely responsible for overseeing restaurants in a location. If you write a complaint to the LG, the LG will send a food inspector to the restaurant to ensure it is following all the appropriate standards.
REPORT TO THE STATE MINISTRY OF HEALTH
In cases of food poisoning where there is an underlying problem. Unhealthy conditions in the kitchen of the restaurant or product line at the manufacturing plant of the company producing the product, there is a high possibility that hundreds/thousands could be affected. So, informing the State Ministry of Health gives them the opportunity to make a measured response in case it becomes an epidemic (e.g the cases of norovirus in the USA)
REPORT TO THE FEDERAL COMPETITION AND CONSUMER PROTECTION COUNCIL
You can read more about how to report to the FCCPC here – Making complaints to the FCCPC in Nigeria
REPORT TO NAFDAC
You can more about how to report to NAFDAC here – The Process for making complaints to NAFDAC
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