South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Menu Warning About Hazards of Raw Oysters Sufficient
Description

Appeals court held that the heirs of a restaurant patron who died from eating raw oysters had no cause of action. The restaurant had provided adequate warning of the health problems most related to bacteria that occurs naturally in oysters.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Products Liability; Food Poisoning; Warning; Risks; Raw Oysters

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Woeste ate a dozen raw oysters at Washington Platform restaurant and died a week later from contracting the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. The bacteria are naturally occurring in oysters from warm water. Vibrio has no effect on most people, but people with a weak immune system, as Woeste had due to Hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver, are susceptible. The restaurant menu warned of the danger of eating raw oysters, especially for persons with “chronic illness of the liver,” but Woeste ordered without reading the menu. His estate sued the restaurant, and the Texas company that harvested the oysters, for negligence and strict liability. The trial court held for defendants. Plaintiffs appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. A seller or manufacturer is not required to warn of every possible risk that a food item poses. One need not warn of common risks or allergies. The oysters were not adulterated; the risk was inherent in the product. The seller had a duty to warn of dangers, and it did on its menu. That warning was adequate. Similarly, every sack of oysters contained a warning on the sack from the producer. The warning did not state that death could result from consumption, but did stress the health conditions that put consumers most at risk.

Citation

Woeste v. Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant, ---N.E.2d--- (2005 WL 2173094, Ct. App., Ohio, 2005)

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