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Evidence Not Sufficient to Prove Illness Caused by Food Poisoning
Description An Appeals court affirmed judgment for a restaurant that was sued by two patrons for food poisoning. While the husband and wife both became ill at the same time, since both had records of chronic abdominal problems, the doctor could not be sure of the source of their illness. Hence, they could not establish causation sufficient to provide preponderance of the evidence.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Food Poisoning; Causation; Evidence
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Mr. and Mrs. Burnett ate dinner at a restaurant on December 19. Both began to feel ill during dinner and became sick on the way home. They went to an emergency room where a doctor diagnosed both as "possible food poisoning." They were given medications and sent home. Four days later, both went to the hospital suffering from cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Their physician diagnosed them as suffering from dehydration and gastroenteritis. Another four days later they again returned to their doctor with similar symptoms. They sued the restaurant for food poisoning. The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of evidence. The Burnetts appealed.
Decision Affirmed. There was never definite evidence that the medical problems were caused by food poisoning. The diagnosis by the emergency room doctor was a guess based on their symptoms and what they told him. No cultures were ever taken that might establish the cause of their distress. They must provide causation by a preponderance of the evidence. Their medical records showed that both of them had persistent problems. Mr. Burnett had been treated numerous times for gasteroenteritis and abdominal problems. Mrs. Burnett had been treated for peptic ulcers, chronic pancreatitis, and other abdominal problems, before and after this episode. Their doctor could not be sure if the December 19 episode was just one of many or was caused by restaurant food.
Citation Burnett v. Essex Insurance Co., 2000 WL 1693141 (Ct. App., 3rd Cir., La., 2000)

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