This past weekend was awful. Things started out innocently enough on Friday night. Several of my friends were heading out to celebrate a birthday, and we started out the evening’s festivities with dinner at a restaurant in downtown Greenville. Without naming the restaurant, suffice to say, the main menu item is chicken. I had my usual order of chicken strips smothered in BBQ sauce. We finished dinner, went out on the town, and had a great time. There was no reason to suspect that trouble was brewing. But it was. And it wasn’t just brewing, it was incubating.
I woke up Saturday morning with a sneaking suspicion that something was awry. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt that something was amiss. It’s never good when you wake up in the morning and believe that right then, at that moment, that is the best you are going to feel all day long. It’s even worse when your intuition is right. After being awake for 15 minutes, my body informed me that I had brought something home from dinner with me: a friendly little bacteria called salmonella. I’m not going to lie. The next 12 hours were awful. I had chills; I had sweats; I had all the other unpleasant accoutrements of food poisoning.
Now, I feel compelled to say that my stomach is usually not so sensitive to food. I have punished my body with God-awful foods much more often that I should. I have eaten meat straight off a whole cow roasted over an open flame. I have drunk water straight out of mountain streams and lakes. Once, when I was Nicaragua, I stopped at a roadside shack to get an afternoon snack that consisted of a tortilla marinated in unrefrigerated cream. None of these caused any gastro-intestinal distress whatsoever, let alone the distress that I suffered through on Saturday.
How bad was it, you ask? Let me tell you. Before being poisoned by my chicken dinner, my Saturday plan involved taking my girl up to Hendersonville to go apple picking on what turned out to be a gorgeous September day. After that, I planned on watching college football in the afternoon, and then heading to a buddy’s house to play poker and watch the UFC fight. After being poisoned by my chicken dinner, though, my Saturday plan involved laying on my couch praying that I would avoid severe dehydration. Thankfully, I had an excellent nurse to take care of me. And I thought it was only fair that she should have control of the TV. So instead of watching football in the afternoon, we watched “The Golden Girls,” “Project Runway,” and “Teen Dads.” And instead of poker and UFC in the evening, we watched Jane Eyre. Here’s the thing: I was in so much pain I didn’t care. We could have watched “Disney Princesses on Ice” (and probably would have had that been on) and I would have been just as agreeable. My only limitation was that I could not watch any food commercial. It was too much for my stomach to bear.
Now that I’m on the road to recovery, I have spent the last few hours searching for the silver lining to this big, disgusting, dark cloud. It took some looking, but I think I found it. Abnormal Use is a products liability blog. When we think about products liability issues, we tend to think of multi-million dollar cases involving complex, sophisticated machinery. But the world of products liability is much broader than that. In fact, the one product that everyone uses every day and which we probably don’t think about as forming the basis of a products liability claim is the very food we eat. This is probably due to the fact that you never really hear about food-based products liability lawsuits. One reason is a proof issue. In my case, how do I know that my chicken dinner on Friday night caused my food poisoning and not something else I ate, or some other pathogen altogether? Apart from the fact that seeing an ad for chicken sandwiches causes my stomach to turn, I really have no evidence. Another reason for the seeming rarity of food-based products cases is damages. What are my damages? Obviously, the price of the dinner would be compensable; and let’s not forget my pain and suffering. But beyond that, quantifying an amount of damages would be very difficult (apart from the rare case of food poisoning that causes emergency room treatment). And so, between difficulties with proof and damages, bringing a case of this type becomes economically unreasonable.
Regardless, though they may not get as much attention as the types of claims we normally write about, food-based claims are just as much product liability issues as anything else that appears on Abnormal Use. And unless you’re growing and preparing your own food, at one time or another, we have all most likely been potential plaintiffs in food-based product liability claims.