Penalties for Foodborne Illness: Jury Decisions and Awards in Foodborne Illness Lawsuits


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Virginia Tech


This study examined how case attributes impact plaintiff success and payouts in jury settled foodborne illness (FBI) lawsuits. Given the risk to firms in terms of potentially large payouts, future litigation, and lost reputation, the results may provide economic incentives for food firms and others in the supply chain to produce safer and better quality foods. Legal databases were systematically searched to identify cases of FBI, which were resolved through the U.S. court system. Reviewing the outcomes of 511 FBI jury trials between 1979 and 2014, plaintiffs won 34.8% of cases, and received a median award of $32,264. The Heckman two-step estimation procedure was used to examine the effects of various factors on plaintiff success rates and subsequent amounts awarded. Plaintiff chances of victory increased if lawsuits involved a child, foodborne pathogen was identified and pain and suffering was claimed, and decreased if defendants used of one or more expert witnesses or had 'deep pockets'. Cases involving a child, chronic complications, or defendants with 'deep pockets' resulted in higher awards. Corporate and policy implications of these findings are considered.



foodborne illness, food safety, liability, injury, lawsuit, jury, United States