Court Discusses Proximate Cause in Recent Food-Poisoning Product Liability Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important issue that frequently comes up in Maryland product liability cases involving defective or unsafe food products. The case required the court to determine the appropriate standard by which a plaintiff’s food-poisoning case is held to at the summary judgment level. Ultimately, the court concluded that food-poisoning cases are no different from any other type of negligence case, and plaintiffs bringing this type of case should not be held to a higher burden. If you believe you’ve experienced an injury as a result of a defect in some mass-produced product, it’s beneficial to have a Maryland products liability attorney at your side to evaluate your case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were two wedding guests who became very ill after eating the food at a wedding rehearsal dinner that was catered by the defendant restaurant. In support of their claim, the plaintiffs presented evidence showing that one of the plaintiffs tested positive for salmonella, that other wedding guests also tested positive for salmonella, that other guests began feeling ill around the same time as the plaintiffs, and that a total of 16-20 other guests reported eventually feeling ill.

The defendant restaurant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs were unable to establish that their illness was caused by the defendant’s food. In support of its position, the restaurant argued that the plaintiffs ate food that was prepared by others around the same time that they consumed the defendant’s food, that the plaintiffs did not experience any symptoms until three days after they ate the food, and that there were many other wedding guests who ate the food but did not become ill.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, noting that they “failed to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis regarding the cause of their illness.” The plaintiffs appealed, and the verdict was affirmed by a divided appellate court. The plaintiffs then appealed once more, to the state’s high court.

On final appeal, the case was reversed and the plaintiffs’ case was reinstated. The court held that the lower courts applied an incorrect – and too burdensome – legal standard at the summary judgment stage. The court held that food-poisoning cases should be treated no differently than other negligence cases, which require a defendant establish that there are no disputed material issues in the case.

Here, the court held, the defendant’s circumstantial evidence that the plaintiffs’ illness was not caused by their food was contradicted by the testimony presented by the plaintiffs. In this case, both parties presented circumstantial evidence of what caused – or did not cause – the plaintiffs’ illness. The court explained that the plaintiffs were not required to exclude every other reasonable cause of their illness; and only needed to present sufficient evidence to dispute the issue. Finding that the plaintiffs’ evidence was sufficient to dispute the defendant’s contrary evidence, the court held that summary judgment was inappropriate and that a jury should be empaneled to make the final determination regarding causation.

Have You Recently Experienced Food Poisoning?

If you or a loved one has recently become violently ill after consuming food that you believe was unsafe or otherwise dangerous or defective, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Maryland product liability lawsuit. The attorneys at the Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of experience handling all types of product liability cases, including Maryland food poisoning cases. To learn more about how they can help you with your case, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

The Importance of Following the Procedural Requirements in Cases Against the Government, Maryland Accident Law Blog, August 27, 2018.

Slip-and-Fall Accidents at Maryland Retail Stores and Shopping Centers, Maryland Accident Law Blog, September 3, 2018.


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