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Are You Exposed to Foodborne Illness Liability?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses and 3000 people die from 31 known pathogens annually. They say many of these illnesses are caught in the home. The CDC cites dairy as the #1 cause, quickly followed by contact with animals. Salmonella in vegetables is also on the rise.

People with foodborne illnesses often point their finger at the last restaurant they visited. However, in the hundreds of claims submitted by Parker, Smith & Feek every year, we have found the restaurant is almost never at fault. Still, patrons try to hold them responsible.

Handling a Foodborne Illness Claim

The CDC, FDA, and OSHA do not have a clear set of reporting procedures for foodborne illness incidents involving single restaurants. Many states have explicit rules and none are the same. Search your state’s regulatory database for “foodborne illness reporting procedures.”

Your general liability policy might also have a suggested set of claim procedures for customers allegedly injured by the foodborne illness. They may differ slightly from state reporting rules and your property policy foodborne illness coverage. Some property policies provide coverage for loss of income due to a shutdown.

Once a foodborne illness allegation is brought to the restaurant’s attention, insurance claim procedures are:

  • Report the Allegation –Gather the claimant information and report the incident to your insurance broker. The broker will prepare a claim report for your insurance carrier.
  • Isolate the Substance – Put the suspected substance in the refrigerator for later testing.  Ensure the original packaging includes the supplier’s name, lot number, delivery date, etc.
  • Verify –If the establishment is shut down, obtain the investigative report from the governing public entity that issued the order.
  • Further Contact – After initial contact, your general liability insurance adjuster will take over communication with the customer to resolve any injury claim.
  • Investigate –Gather as much information as possible, from the time of the incident, to identify who may have consumed the substance stated in the allegation.
  • Record –Keep a record of your activities and responses.  Begin documenting the loss of income if the establishment is shut down by governmental authorities.

Foodborne illness accusations should be taken very seriously. It is up to the establishment to jump into action to protect their business and its reputation. Establishments that react quickly and follow procedure generally find the alleged poisoning or pathogen has a different source.

Brokers who specialize in the hospitality industry understand the sensitive nature of this topic to the reputation, operation, and income of a restaurant or hotel. Wording and proper coverage is key to understanding every policy, to assure full protection. If you have questions or need assistance with a foodborne illness accusation, the opens in a new windowHospitality Practice Group is highly experienced and can help walk you through the process and protect your interests.

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