South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Unidentified Object Could Cause Injury in Food Consumption
Description Minnesota high court held that when a foreign object in food, which is never identified, logically appears to be the cause of an injury suffered by a consumer, there is a prima facie case of negligence against the food seller.
Topic Torts
Key Words Products Liability; Defect; Food; Foreign-Natural Test
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Schafer ate at a Perkins Restaurant and ordered a pumpkin muffin. When she swallowed a bite, she felt a sharp pain in her throat and went to the emergency room. The doctor said she had a cut on her throat, but he could not see what caused it. She developed an infection that required a three day hospital stay. She sued Perkins for selling a muffin in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to consumers. Perkins asserted a third-party claim against Foxtail Foods, the company that sold the muffin mix to Perkins. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants and the court of appeals affirmed. Schafer appealed.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. Under the foreign-natural test for assessing whether a food product is defective, if an object or substance in a food product is natural to any of the ingredients of the product, there is no liability for injuries caused, but if the object or substance is foreign to any of the ingredients, the seller or manufacturer may be liable for any injury caused. The seller is liable to the extent that the injury-causing object in a food product would not be reasonably expected by an ordinary consumer. In such a case, a plaintiff may reach the jury, without direct proof of the specific injury-causing object, when the plaintiff establishes that 1) the injury-causing event was of a kind that would ordinarly only occur as a result of a defective condition in the food product, 2) the defendant was responsible for the condition, and 3) the event was not caused by anything other than a food product defect existing at the time of the product's sale. Shafer established a prima facie case of negligence, based on circumstantial evidence, so the matter will go to trial.

Citation Schafer v. JLC Food Systems, --- N.W.2d--- (2005 WL 984474, Sup. Ct., Minn., 2005)

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