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You are what you eat -- but if you're a victim of food poisoning, what should you do? You may be hungry for justice to be served via a lawsuit, but hold on.
About 76 million cases of foodborne illness are reported each year; most are mild and cause only a day or two of sickness. But about 325,000 cases a year require hospital treatment, and about 5,000 cases result in death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In general, food poisoning lawsuits fall under the legal theory of product liability. Here are three "courses" of action for what to do after a bad case of food poisoning:
1st course: Get medical attention.
If you suspect food poisoning, it's probably wise to see a doctor. Some types of food poisoning are apparent immediately, while others may take a day or two before symptoms emerge.
Either way, a doctor's diagnosis -- confirmed by stool samples or other tests -- can help prove that foodborne contamination made you sick. Also, hang on to your bills for possible reimbursement of medical expenses if you win your lawsuit.
2nd course: Figure out which food made you sick.
In addition to proving that foodborne contamination got you sick, you must generally also prove the food you ate was actually contaminated.
This can be simple: Perhaps a public health official found a link between your illness and something specific you ate. Or it can be more complicated: You may need to submit leftover food scraps for scientific testing.
If the likely source of contamination has been consumed or discarded, try to find the bag, can, or container that the food came in. You may also want to dig up a receipt to show you purchased the item in question.
3rd course: Consult a lawyer.
An experienced attorney can consider all aspects of your case, and advise you on what you need to do to win a food poisoning lawsuit. A lawyer will also know how much time you have to file your claim, and whether a class action may be appropriate in your particular food-poisoning case.