Be Our Guest: Restaurant Liability When Meals Go Bad

When diners frequent a restaurant, they expect a delicious meal and attentive service. Yet, they sometimes receive more than bargained for: a visit to the emergency room or an upset stomach. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), sales from commercial eating establishments in 2014, such as restaurants, bars, and hotels, is projected to result in revenues of more than $683 billion.

Moreover, two in five consumers who were surveyed said that restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle. With busier lives and more opportunities than ever to dine out, Floridians seek both casual and fine dining experiences. Business owners in turn, owe patrons a duty to serve, not only appetizing food, but more importantly, to provide a safe dining experience. Too often, however, customers suffer due to restaurants’ negligence.

Improperly Stored and Prepared Food

Perhaps nothing sours a customer’s experience at a restaurant more than the queasy aftermath of food poisoning. In determinations of negligence, a court will apply the “reasonably prudent person standard” which states that, when selecting, storing, and cooking food, a food provider has a duty to act as would a reasonably prudent person who is skilled in the selection and preparation of food.

This standard is also applied to foreign objects found in the food. For example, if a customer injured her tooth when eating a bowl of clam chowder, a court may reason that it was reasonable to expect to find a piece of clam shell in a bowl of clam chowder and rule against the plaintiff.

Relatedly, more and more people are on restrictive diets or suffer from food allergies. In these cases, it is the duty of the patron to notify the restaurant of dietary restrictions. Liability will only accrue if, after notification, the restaurant fails to deliver the appropriate food, resulting in the customer’s need for medical attention.

Improper Maintenance of Premises

Another common cause of complaint against restaurants is improper maintenance of the building, dining room, and surroundings. This can include failure to clean up spills both inside the kitchen and on the restaurant floor, poorly lit stairwells and parking lots, and broken pavements or uneven steps. Under Florida premises liability law, businesses owe different levels of care to people who enter their properties.

Because restaurant patrons are invitees and are visiting a property for a commercial purpose, they are owed a high level of care. This means that restaurants must take proactive measures to ensure the safety of the premises including regular inspections for hazardous or defective conditions. This can mean anything from changing a lightbulb in dimly lit corridors and mopping up puddles near bathrooms to replacing stairways that increase dangers of trip and fall accidents.

As a popular vacation destination, Florida’s booming service industry delights millions of customers each day. Yet, when restaurants overlook hazardous conditions on their premises or mishandle food that later causes a diner to fall ill, the consequences can be sobering. At The Pittman Firm, we specialize in handling cases involving negligence and liability. Contact one of our attorneys today to discuss your case.

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