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Georgia Supreme Court Rejects Heightened Burden at Summary Judgment for Food-Poisoning Plaintiffs

In a recent Georgia food poisoning case, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decision to dismiss a plaintiff’s case. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the appropriate burden a plaintiff bringing a food-poisoning case has at the summary judgment stage. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower courts imposed too high a burden on the plaintiffs’ case when they required the plaintiffs to make “every other reasonable hypothesis regarding the cause of their illness.”

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were two wedding guests who became violently ill several days after consuming food prepared by the defendant caterer at the wedding rehearsal dinner. The plaintiffs filed a Georgia products liability case against the caterer, claiming that the food was “defective, pathogen-contaminated, undercooked, and negligently prepared.”

The defendant caterer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs’ case should be dismissed because they did not present sufficient evidence that the defendant’s food caused their illness. In support of its motion, the defendant caterer made the following arguments:

  • The plaintiff had eaten food prepared by other individuals or caterers at the rehearsal dinner;
  • The plaintiffs ate food from several other places between the time of the wedding and when they fell ill three days later; and
  • The caterer’s employees, owners of the event venue, and the other guests that had consumed the same food did not fall ill.

The plaintiff’s responded by presenting the testimony of other wedding guests, several of whom also experienced similar symptoms. The plaintiffs’ evidence suggested that somewhere between 16 and 20 guests fell ill, including one guest who ate only at the rehearsal dinner and did not eat at the wedding reception the following day. The plaintiffs claimed that this evidence was sufficient to give rise to a material issue regarding whether the defendant’s food caused their illness.

The trial court, however, applied a legal standard requiring the plaintiffs to “exclude every other reasonable hypothesis regarding the cause of their illness.” Finding that the plaintiffs were unable to do so, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The case was affirmed on appeal to the intermediate appellate court, and the plaintiffs then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

On appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, the case was reversed in the plaintiffs’ favor. The court explained that plaintiffs bringing food-poisoning cases should not be held to a higher burden in a motion for summary judgment than claimants bringing other negligence cases. Instead, courts should determine whether the plaintiff’s evidence creates a “genuine issue of material fact,” as is the requirement in other Georgia personal injury cases.

Here, the court held, the plaintiffs’ circumstantial evidence that the defendant’s food caused their illness disputed the circumstantial evidence presented by the defense that their food did not cause the plaintiffs’ illness. Thus, the plaintiffs’ case was reinstated.

Have You Suffered Through a Recent Bout of Food Poisoning?

If you or a loved one has recently been made ill after consuming food that you believe was unsafe for any reason, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Georgia products liability lawsuit. The Georgia personal injury lawyers at McAleer Law have decades of collective experience handling all types of injury claims, including Georgia food poisoning cases. To learn more, call 404-622-5337 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney today.

See More Posts:

Georgia’s Supreme Court Holds Wrongful Death Lawsuit Limited by Previous Personal Injury Settlement, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, July 21, 2018.

Court Discusses When a Georgia Personal Injury Plaintiff’s Duty to Preserve Evidence Is Triggered, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, April 24, 2018.