Food Poisoning: When a common occurrence turns fatal

Food poisoning, medically known as Gastroenteritis, is usually known to clear itself after a week or so. But what happens when it becomes severe or leads to a loss of life?

Recent outbreaks

Early November 2018, a popular restaurant at River Valley was involved in an incident which caused gastroenteritis to about 81 people (as at 15 November 2018)[1].  This situation turned dreadful when one Mr Fadli succumbed to the disease last week.

The attention in the River Valley case would have stirred one’s memory to recall other similar occurrences in Singapore. The most prominent ones are as follows:

  • In November 2007, Prima Deli was found guilty for serving hazelnut paste containing the salmonella enteritidis bacteria. This incident caused food poisoning in more than 150 people.
  • In 2009, a food establishment at Geylang Serai served contaminated Indian Rojak. This contaminated food left a woman in coma for a significant period and 100 others suffering from the aftermath.
  • In 2015, Mr Tan, a technician, consumed contaminated raw fish and suffered from severe food poisoning. Subsequently, Mr Tan developed complication and had undergone total amputation of both hands and feet.[2]

Potential Financial Fall out

When incidents (described above happen), it could be potentially disastrous financially. Whilst some are likely to have Medisave or hospitalisation insurance or medical insurance, it is important to note that medical insurance may only to indemnify you for your hospitalisation. Medical insurance may not cover your loss of income (present or future) or amenities (present or future) or disability (present or future), if any, during and after your hospitalisation etc.

Mr Tan (the aggrieved party in the 2015 tragedy) was a technician and a sole breadwinner before his incident of food poisoning in 2015. His amputation may hinder him from returning to his original vocation as a technician.  It may be that he must resort to finding another job outside his skillset or even worse, remain unemployed. [3]

The Law

Depending on the relationship of the parties and the extent of the claim, there are two routes available for civil claims for compensation – breach of contract or negligence.  Both are:

  • Proved on the balance of probabilities;
  • Remedies arising out of tortfeasor’s breach; and
  • Remedies intended to compensate such that the aggrieved party and not punish the tortfeasor.

Contractual relationship

A contract is a legally binding agreement formed by the mutual consent of the parties.  The parties may have pre-existing relationship, like a father selling his property to his son, or they may be complete strangers, like customer paying money in exchange for food at a food establishment.  In either case, clear relationship between the parties and the obligation of the parties are formed and governed by the contract.

Evidential Burden

Government Regulatory bodies have been established to ensure that goods are of satisfactory level and for investigations in case of an outbreak of contamination[4].  In the event, there is no outbreak, then the onus is on the aggrieved party to approach a medical practitioner who would, on the balance of probability, be able to pinpoint the food poisoning to the contaminated food rather than other external factors.

Law of Negligence

Another recourse available is negligence – a cause of action to take legal action against another party.  This is especially helpful if there was no contract between the aggrieved party and the tortfeasor such that the aggrieved party is not in a position to reply to the rights under contract law for compensation.

To succeed in claim under negligence, the following elements must be satisfied:

  • The tortfeasor owed a reasonable duty of care to the aggrieved party;
  • There was a breach in the duty of care by the tortfeasor; and
  • The breach caused the aggrieved party to suffer damages.

Unlike contracts, the obligation between parties are not mutually agreed between parties but are rather imposed by law. Upon establishing that there is indeed duty of care on the part of the tortfeasor then comparison is made between the tortfeasor’s action and the standard of a reasonable man  in the tortfeasor’s position.

In negligence, the aggrieved party must prove that ‘but for’ the contaminated food, the aggrieved would not have suffered any loss. In the Prima Deli case, food poisoning was foreseeable every time products containing the hazelnut paste were sold.  In short, Prima Deli caused harm and it was foreseeable  harm to every customer consuming products containing the hazelnut paste.

In terms of damages, the aim is to put the aggrieved party in the position that he was in as if the tort had not been committed by the tortfeasor. Of course, a defence can be raised by the tortfeasor in relation to the contributory negligence (if any) on the part of the aggrieved party. In such an event, there may be a reduction in the total damages payable to the aggrieved party.

Claims

You can (if affected by any food poisoning incident), depending on the facts and the circumstances, claim from a potential Defendant, amongst others, for the following:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Medical expenses (pre-trial and future);
  • Loss of amenities;
  • Pre-trial loss of income;
  • Loss of earning capacity / loss of future earnings;
  • Nursing care;
  • Emotional distress / shock;
  • Transport expenses etc.

In the unfortunate event of death then, one can also claim for funeral expenses, bereavement, dependency claim etc.

Conclusion

This is a very short article to inform you of your available recources. Take the necessary steps in a timely manner for favourable outcomes.

How we can help

At I.R.B. Law LLP we are passionate about the law and helping you. We offer expertise and services of a large law firm whilst being competitive in prices. We believe that everyone deserves legal help and, more importantly, an experienced and efficient lawyer to be on your matter.

Should you need legal advice, contact us today at +65 65898913 or email us at [email protected]

References