Can A Restaurant Be Held Liable for A Food Allergy?

4 Mins read
  • All in all, it’s necessary to reach out to a legal professional who is familiar with food allergy liability.

Food allergies are quite common. Roughly one in ten adults have a food allergy, yet almost twice as many people think they might be at risk of life-threatening allergic reactions. In the past couple of years, hospital emergency departments have witnessed a significant increase in anaphylaxis admissions. ED visits and hospital admissions were mostly caused by allergic reactions to foods such as eggs, cow’s milk, tree nuts, fish, peanuts, and shellfish, just to name a few. Some intolerances can trigger mild reactions, while others can trigger lethal responses. 

An allergic reaction occurs when a person is exposed to an allergen. The typical method of exposure to food proteins happens during ingestion. For instance, you eat at a restaurant and suffer a terrible allergic reaction. You experience tingling or itching in the mouth. Swelling of the lips, face, and tongue isn’t excluded. These are manifestations of immune responses. What happens is that the immune system tries to protect the body from harm and it overreacts by producing antibodies (immunoglobulin). 

The rise in food allergies has been particularly visible in the West. About 150 Europeans struggle with chronic allergic diseases and it’s expected that in the near future half of the entire EU population will be affected. In the United Kingdom, allergic disorders are common and they represent a non-negligible source of patient morbidity and healthcare usage. Approximately 45% of Brits suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise; this isn’t good news. Not only do food allergies impact those afflicted but also society, with lost productivity and health system expenditure. 

Many food allergic reactions take place in restaurants 

More often than not, allergic reactions occur at establishments that serve food due to miscommunication or minute mistakes, which can be identified and corrected. What is supposed to be a pleasant experience immediately transforms into a nightmare if you have an adverse reaction to something you ate. If you eat out or order a takeaway, it’s paramount to be proactive and inform the restaurant about your needs. Additionally, you should ask what ingredients are included in the dishes. 

The allergic reaction can be triggered by direct consumption or cross-contamination. Allergen cross-contamination refers to the inadvertent transfer of one contaminant from one surface to the other. For instance, if a cook prepares a cheeseburger on a grill and then sets to making a hamburger, the residues and contaminants in milk and dairy could lead to a severe allergic reaction. Cross-contamination can happen during meal preparation or storage. It’s not done on purpose.  

It’s the responsibility of the restaurant to provide allergen information. Food businesses across Europe are required by the law to inform customers if the food they serve contains ingredients known to trigger allergic reactions. The information can be listed or highlighted on the menu or it can take the form of coherent explaining (you can ask a staff member to give you more details). Businesses are free to choose how they provide information on the allergens contained in their food. In addition to the above, restaurants can use leaflets or food labels. Needless to say, there are fines for repeat offenders.

Yes, a restaurant can be liable for a food allergy 

Just to be clear, a restaurant isn’t liable for allergic reactions unless it was acting negligently. If you express concerns that are ignored or the restaurant fails to take precautions for common allergies, they may be held liable. A restaurant has the legal responsibility to ensure the safety of customers, providing a warning if it’s not possible to meet its obligations. If the establishment serving food was indeed negligent in handling the customer’s allergy concerns, legal action may be taken. 

The action that caused harm is evaluated under the personal injury standard for negligence. If you want to make a claim for compensation in relation to a food allergy suffered while dining out, it’s recommended to seek legal advice. Have the support you need to ensure that you’re not deceived by a third party trying to take advantage. Food allergy cases tend to settle right away. The explanation lies in the fact that food allergies are easy to trace as opposed to food poisoning cases, where it’s a tad more complicated to determine the incubation period. Get a lawyer and don’t attempt to settle the case on your own. 

In what sort of scenarios can you claim compensation for a food allergy?  

We’re dealing with a fault-based system. In a negligence case against the food business, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the allergic reaction occurred due to the food consumed at the restaurant. Most importantly, it’s necessary to show that the restaurant had a breached duty of care. If you succeed in convincing the court, based on expert evidence, then you’re entitled to compensation. In what follows, we’ll take a close look at the most common situations where someone might qualify for making a food allergy injury claim. 

The menu gives the wrong information 

The menu in the dining establishment must clearly specify if allergens are present in the dishes, even if allergen information is provided verbally to customers. For instance, if a type of dish is dairy-free, it shouldn’t contain dairy protein. The menu must strike a balance between allergen information and meal description. Given that a considerable amount of the population suffers from food allergies and knowing the potentially deadly effect of this condition, failure to warn is punished. 

The restaurant staff didn’t give you information to help prevent an allergic reaction 

Many restaurants train their staff on food allergies, which covers important information as to what to do if a customer suffers an allergic reaction. Surprisingly, restaurant servers still have limited knowledge about what items are safe for allergic individuals. More exactly, the knowledge levels aren’t as expected. If you go out to eat and ask if a certain dish is gluten-free, the restaurant staff mightn’t be able to answer or they might offer inaccurate information. To sue the restaurant for negligence, it’s necessary to prove that one of the staff members gave you the wrong information. 

All in all, it’s necessary to reach out to a legal professional who is familiar with food allergy liability. They will process the claim for you, yet it’s recommended to become familiar with the whys and how’s of food allergy lawsuits.

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