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Can I Sue a Restaurant for Food Allergies?

on  Personal Injury

Over the past few decades, food allergies have become a growing public health concern worldwide, affecting millions of people, including children and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. This rising trend has put food allergy awareness in the spotlight, prompting individuals, families, and policymakers to take necessary precautions to prevent allergic reactions.

Individuals with food allergies rely on restaurants to provide safe and accurate information about the ingredients in their dishes. Unfortunately, not all restaurants handle food allergies properly, leading to severe consequences for allergic customers. 

Restaurants in Florida must be upfront and honest about ingredients and take steps to prevent cross-contamination. When restaurant staff fail to take these precautions or when they act carelessly, customers can suffer severe and sometimes fatal allergic reactions. When this occurs, restaurants, staff, and management can be held accountable for the harm they’ve caused. 

Food Allergies and Restaurants: The Basics

Food allergies are immune-mediated responses to specific proteins in food. When a person with a food allergy ingests even a tiny amount of the allergen, their immune system releases histamine and other chemicals. This immune response can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling of the throat or tongue, which can cause difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Constriction of airways, causing severe difficulty in breathing
  • Drop in blood pressure, leading to dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Rapid or weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

When a person with a severe food allergy eats food that they’re allergic to, they can go into anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency and requires immediate treatment with epinephrine (adrenaline) and a visit to the emergency room.

Common Food Allergens 

Various foods are known to cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. The most common food allergens include:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, cashews)
  • Shellfish (e.g., shrimp, lobster, crab)
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat

Exposure to these allergens, even in trace amounts, can lead to severe reactions, making it essential for individuals with food allergies to avoid them entirely.

In Florida, restaurants are legally responsible for taking reasonable precautions to protect customers with food allergies. This duty of care extends to providing accurate and transparent information about allergenic ingredients present in their dishes.

Specific laws and regulations that govern food allergen labeling in restaurants. The state follows federal guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding allergen labeling on packaged foods. However, Florida went one step further and enacted additional regulations to ensure the safety of customers with food allergies. 

In 2019, Florida introduced the “Food Allergy Awareness Act” to improve food allergy safety in the state. This act requires restaurants to take measures to accommodate customers with food allergies.

Menu Labeling & Information

Restaurants must clearly label their menu items, especially those containing common food allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. When customers can trust menu ingredients, they can make better choices to avoid the food they’re allergic to. 

Restaurant staff should also be able to provide detailed allergen information about their dishes upon request. This includes identifying potential cross-contamination risks and disclosing hidden allergens in certain ingredients.

Training and Emergency Response Plans

Many restaurant employees must undergo food safety training, including education on handling food allergies and recognizing the signs of an allergic reaction. This helps reduce cross-contamination and prevents severe allergic reactions from occurring. 

The act also requires restaurants to have an emergency response plan to handle allergic reactions, including procedures for administering epinephrine if necessary. 

Restaurants that comply with the Food Allergy Awareness Act requirements can receive a “Food Allergy Friendly” designation from the state.

Can I Sue a Restaurant in Florida For My Allergic Reaction?

If you suffer an allergic reaction in a restaurant, you may be able to file a food allergy lawsuit against the establishment. However, your restaurant injury lawyer must establish several elements to win your case. 

One of the fundamental elements is establishing the duty of care the restaurant owes to its customers, especially those with food allergies. Restaurants must exercise reasonable care in preparing and serving food, considering the safety and well-being of their patrons, including those with known food allergies. 

Your attorney must also establish that the restaurant breached this duty of care. They must show that the restaurant failed to uphold its duty of care to you as a customer with a food allergy. Examples of actions that can be considered a breach of duty include:

  • Mislabeling: Incorrectly identifying allergenic ingredients on menus or providing inaccurate information about allergens in dishes.
  • Cross-Contamination: Allowing allergenic foods to come into contact with non-allergenic foods during preparation, leading to inadvertent exposure.
  • Lack of Training: Failing to adequately train staff in handling food allergies, resulting in improper responses to your inquiries or allergic reactions.
  • Ignoring Allergy Notices: Disregarding your allergy alerts and failing to take appropriate measures to accommodate their dietary needs.

If the restaurant breached its duty of care, your attorney must show that the restaurant’s actions caused your allergic reaction and you suffered harm. To establish causation in a food allergy lawsuit, your legal team must demonstrate a direct link between the restaurant’s breach of duty and the allergic reaction suffered. This involves showing that the allergic reaction was a foreseeable consequence of the restaurant’s negligence. Establishing causation may require presenting medical evidence, expert testimony, and documentation of the events leading to the allergic reaction.

Factors Influencing a Food Allergy Lawsuit in Florida

When you file a food allergy lawsuit in Florida, several factors may affect your case and your ability to win compensation. These cases are complex, and restaurants will fight back to avoid losing these lawsuits. After all, they stand to lose more than just money. A restaurant’s entire reputation can be destroyed in a food allergy lawsuit. And your attorney knows they’ll fight aggressively to prevent that. 

Was the Allergy Disclosed to the Restaurant?

One significant factor influencing a food allergy lawsuit in Florida is whether you disclosed your food allergy to the restaurant. If you did not inform the restaurant about your food allergy, the establishment may argue that they were unaware of the allergy. Without prior knowledge of your allergies, they may not be held liable for any allergic reaction. However, the restaurant’s duty of care still applies, and they should have proper procedures to handle potential allergens, regardless of whether you informed them.

Did the Restaurant Take Proper Measures to Prevent Cross-Contamination?

Another crucial factor is whether the restaurant took appropriate measures to prevent cross-contamination of allergenic foods. Restaurants must handle allergenic ingredients separately and avoid cross-contact during food preparation, cooking, and serving. If it can be demonstrated that the restaurant failed to follow proper protocols and cross-contamination led to the allergic reaction, it may strengthen your case.

Did the Restaurant Staff Understand the Severity of Food Allergies?

The level of knowledge and training of the restaurant staff regarding food allergies can significantly impact a food allergy lawsuit. Properly trained staff should be able to recognize allergenic ingredients, understand the severity of allergic reactions, and respond appropriately to customers’ inquiries or allergic incidents. If the restaurant demonstrates that they provided adequate training to their staff, it may somewhat mitigate their liability.

How Can You Prove Restaurant Negligence?

It is crucial for individuals who experience a food allergy reaction at a restaurant to preserve as much evidence as possible and seek legal advice promptly. An experienced Florida personal injury attorney can help navigate the legal complexities and build a strong case based on the available evidence. Your attorney will investigate your case and gather evidence to prove liability, including:

  • Medical Records: Detailed medical records of the allergic reaction, including diagnosis, treatment provided, and medical bills, are crucial in establishing the severity of the incident and the resulting damages.
  • Allergy Alerts: If you notify the restaurant about your food allergy, any communication, written or verbal, indicating the allergy alert should be preserved as evidence.
  • Witnesses: Statements from witnesses who observed the incident, the restaurant’s handling of the situation, or the staff’s knowledge of food allergies can support your case.
  • Menus and Labels: Any menus, menu boards, or food labels that provide information about allergenic ingredients and cross-contact prevention can be used to determine whether the restaurant fulfilled its duty of care.
  • Photos or Videos: Photos or videos of the food and the restaurant’s practices may indicate potential negligence.
  • Employee Training Records: Records of staff training on food allergies can demonstrate the restaurant’s efforts to educate employees on handling food allergies.

Defenses Used by Restaurants in Food Allergy Lawsuits

As mentioned, Florida restaurants will fight food allergy lawsuits aggressively. Florida is a tourist hotspot, and restaurants often rely on their reputation to attract crowds. Their reputation and livelihood are on the line when someone suffers an allergic reaction in their establishment. As such, they’ll use some common defenses to fight back.

Disclaimer Signs and Menus

One common defense restaurants use in food allergy lawsuits is the presence of disclaimer signs and disclaimers on menus. These disclaimers often state that the restaurant cannot guarantee a completely allergen-free environment and that customers with food allergies dine at their own risk. Restaurants may argue that you assumed the risk of potential allergen exposure by choosing to eat at the establishment despite the disclaimer.

Assumption of Risk and Contributory Negligence Arguments

Restaurants may assert that customers with food allergies assume the risk when dining out and, therefore, share some responsibility for their own safety. The defense of the assumption of risk implies that you were aware of the potential dangers and voluntarily accepted them. Additionally, the restaurant might argue that your actions or lack of precaution contributed to the allergic reaction, leading to the defense of contributory negligence.

Challenging Causation and Medical Evidence

Restaurants in Florida may challenge the causation element of the food allergy lawsuit, disputing whether their actions directly caused the allergic reaction. They may argue that your allergic reaction was not a result of any negligence on their part but could be attributed to other factors unrelated to the restaurant’s food or practices. Challenging medical evidence is another defense tactic, where the restaurant questions the severity of the allergic reaction or the link between the reaction and the food served.

Standing Behind the “Open and Obvious” Doctrine

In some cases, restaurants may rely on the “open and obvious” doctrine, which suggests that certain hazards are so apparent that customers should have been aware of them and taken reasonable precautions. If the allergen is easily identifiable or clearly stated on the menu, the restaurant might argue that you and your family should have exercised caution and avoided ordering dishes containing their allergen.

An experienced Florida food lawsuit lawyer will know the best way to counter these defenses and build a case to help you win maximum compensation. 

Steps to Take if You Suffer a Food Allergy Reaction at a Florida Restaurant

If you experience a food allergy reaction while dining at a Florida restaurant, your health and safety should be the top priority. Seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room if the reaction is severe or includes symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, or a drop in blood pressure. Prompt medical intervention can be lifesaving in such situations.

After receiving medical attention, document the incident as thoroughly as possible. Write down a detailed account of what happened, including the date, time, restaurant name, and food you consumed. If there were any witnesses to the incident, obtain their contact information and, if possible, ask them to provide written statements about what they saw. Take pictures or videos of the food you ordered, the menu, any allergy alerts or warnings, and any other relevant details at the restaurant. Keep a copy of your receipt as evidence of your visit to the restaurant.

Do not leave the restaurant without informing the manager of the incident. Be clear about the allergen that caused the reaction and allow them to respond and address the situation. This step is essential for allowing the restaurant to rectify any mistakes or negligence and improve its practices in the future. It also creates documentation that the incident occurred. Without this, it could be your word versus.

Hire a Restaurant Injury Attorneys For a Food Allergy Lawsuit

If you believe that the restaurant’s negligence or failure to take proper precautions led to your food allergy reaction, you must contact an experienced food allergy lawyer immediately. An attorney can evaluate the details of your situation, assess the case, and guide you through seeking compensation for damages.

An experienced Florida restaurant injury attorney will have in-depth knowledge of Florida’s food allergy laws, regulations, relevant precedents, and court rulings. They can use this knowledge to navigate the complexities of your case effectively. 

Proving liability in a food allergy lawsuit can be challenging. A skilled attorney knows how to gather and present evidence to demonstrate that the restaurant’s negligence or breach of duty caused the allergic reaction. Your attorney will use this evidence to build a strong case, establish liability, and pursue fair compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages resulting from the allergic reaction. They will also handle negotiations with the restaurant or its insurance company and, if necessary, represent you in court.

Contact Our Florida Restaurant Injury Lawyers

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury at a Miami restaurant, we are here to help. At Prosper Shaked Accident Injury Attorneys PA, our mission is to help you seek justice and hold the responsible parties accountable for the losses you’ve endured. We understand the challenges of the recovery process and of holding restaurants accountable for their negligence. We fight aggressively for families who’ve been harmed because of restaurant negligence. 

Let us fight on your behalf to secure the compensation you deserve, allowing you to focus on your recovery without worrying about the legal complexities. To learn more about our services and how we can assist, please don’t hesitate to contact our law offices today at (305) 694-2676.