Let the Taco Bell Lawsuits Begin

From the New York Post:

A 16-year-old boy says he suffered “severe and permanent personal injuries” after eating food from a Long Island Taco Bell.

In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, James Robinson, of Rockville Centre, says he “experienced great pain and suffering” and was hospitalized with E. coli poisoning after his mother picked him up some dinner at a now-shuttered Taco Bell in Hempstead.

James was one of the first to get sick, and initially the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him or how to treat it. The lawsuit names Taco Bell and the provider of the lettuce, Ready Pac. According to the Post: “A spokesman for Taco Bell said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation but is dedicated to making sure their food is safe.” —MEGHANN MARCO

L.I. Teen: Bell Made Me Taco Ill [NYP]

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Comments

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  1. ElizabethD says:

    “Severe and permanent personal injuries” — huh? (Racks brain…)

  2. FLConsumer says:

    Depending on the state of the teen’s health before and possible underlying medical conditions, ingesting e.coli can cause serious and yes, permanent (‘though very rare), damage to the body. It’s particularly dangerous if the e.coli starts to colonize in the small intestine. Sadly, most doctors are totally unaware of these types of conditions. During this time, the patient’s ability to digest food begins to decline until they have difficulty digesting anything except water.

  3. chimmike says:

    The suit names Taco Bell and the lettuce packer so that if one gets thrown out due to lack of possible liability the other is still on the hook.

    I’m willing to bet if Taco Bell were to fight it, they’d set precedent and win showing they had no liability in checking the lettuce’s cleaning process before they receive the packed, prepared product.

    However, because they’re wusses, they’ll probably settle out of court, and the attorney will get his nice 33% chunk of BS.

    Sick from a restaurant? All they see then is $$.

    If only I could sue for every time I got sick from a chinese buffet………..

    • ShizaMinelli says:

      @chimmike: I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if someone could sue a buffet for not stopping them before they overfilled themselves or some such nonsense. And, sadly, winning.

  4. B says:

    On one hand, I think restaurants should be held responsible for putting their customers in the hospital. On the other hand, just thinking about the food served at a Taco Bell makes me nauseous, maybe I can join the class-action suit.

  5. missplange says:

    i would think the last thing a taco bell customer expects to receive from the restaurant is healthy, nourishing food that is in any way supposed to sustain and regenerate the body… but that’s just me.

  6. ACurmudgeon says:

    yes, but it isn’t supposed to almost kill you….

  7. timmus says:

    Well, Taco Bell is fine for run-of-the-mill Tex-Mex food… that’s where I’ve gone when I’ve been in a hurry and needed a taste for spice. The safety issues just don’t make it worthwhile. It’s been about 2 months since I’ve eaten there and I don’t plan to return.

  8. WindowSeat says:

    I’m siding with another fast food place again, what’s the world coming to? The fault lies with the lettuce grower and packer.

    Taco Bell and anyone else purchasing processed lettuce and greens have a reasonable assumption that the growers and packers have a rigorous testing program for e.coli contamination, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

    I know it isn’t possible for everyone to grow their own greens or to go without them six months out of the year, but I’d suggest that people at least try to purchase locally grown, organic produce.

    Organic produce isn’t any safer, but small local farms aren’t usually next to feedlots with huge runoffs of liquid feces every time it rains.

  9. bluegus32 says:

    chimmike said: “The suit names Taco Bell and the lettuce packer so that if one gets thrown out due to lack of possible liability the other is still on the hook.

    I’m willing to bet if Taco Bell were to fight it, they’d set precedent and win showing they had no liability in checking the lettuce’s cleaning process before they receive the packed, prepared product.”

    There a few things to remember: 1) unless Taco Bell or the lettuce packer can show without a doubt that they did not serve tainted food, neither of them is getting thrown out. No judge in his/her right mind would let either of these parties out of the lawsuit; and 2) New York might have strict liability laws for this kind of thing, meaning that the restaurant is liable regardless of negligence. I would be curious to have a New York lawyer weigh in on this.

    Even if New York requires negligence, establishing it will be very easy. I won’t go into the hows or whys of personal injury litigation, but I assure you that this teen is going to get a substantial amount of money if he truly was injured as a result of eating Taco Bell food.

  10. mathew says:

    The real problem behind this is the corporatization of the farming industry. When you had many small farms, if any one farm failed to do a good job the damage would be limited. Now you have these corporate megafarms that supply lettuce to thousands of customers, a single error can result in thousands of people being poisoned.

    Cases like this are going to become more and more frequent, unless the trend of destroying small farms is reversed.

  11. Tallanvor says:

    What is Taco Bell supposed to do, test the lettuce (and every other ingredient) themselves for E. coli and other contaminants prior to using it? And if Taco Bell is expected to do this, then shouldn’t every restaurant large and small be expected to do the same?

    I guess the question should be whether Taco Bell could have taken reasonable steps to prevent such a problem to determine if they are at fault for this.

    The liability of their supplier is another matter entirely.

    Note: I haven’t been to Taco Bell in years, and have no plans to visit them anytime soon. Although every once in a while I do get a craving for Taco Time, which is almost as bad (and nearly out of business, as far as I can tell).

  12. bluegus32 says:

    Tallanvor says:

    “What is Taco Bell supposed to do, test the lettuce (and every other ingredient) themselves for E. coli and other contaminants prior to using it? And if Taco Bell is expected to do this, then shouldn’t every restaurant large and small be expected to do the same?”

    You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not a matter necessarily of what Taco Bell should do. It’s a question of allocation of risk. It is a form of social engineering that we do all the time. It’s a Robin Hood mentality that pervades quite a lot of our judicial system. From a social engineering standpoint, Taco Bell is more capable of incurring the cost of this type of injury than the average consumer. As such, we put the liability on Taco Bell oftentimes regardless of fault.

    Other examples of this:

    1) Workplace injuries in many states require the employer to compensate the employee for injuries (through worker’s compensation payments) regardless of fault;
    2) Many states have strict products liability laws wherein you the consumer can sue every person in the chain of custody of a product (producer, manufacturer, designer, distributor, and retailer) for injuries suffered as a result of a product defect. Every single person in the chain of custody is deemed liable to the consumer regardless of fault.
    3) In California, you as a driver of an automobile are strictly liable for any injuries suffered as a result of someone getting hit when your brakes fail. Even if you can prove that your mechanic messed up your brakes, you are still liable because you have a “non-delegable” duty to maintain your brakes.

    These are but a few examples of our social engineering at work. There are hundreds more.

    That’s why Taco Bell will pay.

  13. mrwilson says:

    I agree with bluegus32 that whether Taco Bell should be liable here may be a matter of strict liability, rather than negligence (I would guess that strict liability is indeed the standard in New York for something like this, but I’m not a New York lawyer). However, I would not say that it necessarily springs from a “Robin Hood” mentality to make Taco Bell and/or the grower pay here.

    The key point to remember, in my view, is that someone must bear the cost of those injuries no matter what: either the kid, who is currently solely bearing those costs (“costs” here should be thought to include the pain and suffering he is enduring as a result of the injuries, lost wages, if applicable, etc.), or Taco Bell, or the grower. I would say that as between an innocent consumer and the entities that served and/or provided that consumer tainted food, it ought to be the entities who bear the costs. Certainly Taco Bell has a duty (maybe even an absolute duty, if strict liability is the standard) to serve its customers food that is not tainted with e. coli, and it and its growers are in a better position to make that happen that consumers.

    (I’m assuming that consuming Taco Bell food did indeed cause this kid’s injuries, which may or may not be right.)

    (Moreover, as an aside, even if negligence is the standard, based on what we know right now, there’s no way to have any idea if Taco Bell was or was not negligent here. Maybe it ignored warning signs regarding this grower. Maybe its own inspectors found issues with this grower before that Taco Bell ignored. Maybe this grower was cited by the Dept. of Agriculture before but Taco Bell did nothing. Who knows?)

  14. SuperJdynamite says:

    “”Severe and permanent personal injuries” — huh? (Racks brain…)”

    Certain strains of E. Coli (such as O157:H7, for example) can release toxins (such as Shiga-like toxins) that cause neurological and renal damage.

    Also, unlike some strains of E. Coli that require ingestion in great number before becoming sick an individual can ingest a handful of E. Coli O157:H7 organisms and become ill.

    The article doesn’t specifically mention O157:H7, but it’s usually the culprit when cases of food poisoning make the headlines.

  15. drrew says:

    Honestly, anytime I choose to ingest a meal from Taco Bell, I consider it a 50/50 proposition as to whether it will make me sick or not. This kid just got the bad 50.


    If he has uncovered medical bills or he missed work or something to that effect, I’m all for Taco Bell/lettuce supplier picking up the tab, other than that, I don’t see why they should owe him a penny.

  16. bluegus32 says:

    drrew says:

    “. . . I don’t see why they should owe him a penny.”

    Because here in America we don’t believe in the maxim that sometimes shit just happens. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault. Maybe nobody should pay for your loss. Maybe this falls under the category of “some days, it just sucks to be you.”

    No, in America, someone must always pay whether there is negligence/fault or not.

  17. WindowSeat says:

    Am I correct in thinking that Taco Bell’s insurance company will cover the (potential)damages and then turn around and sue the (e.coli infested)crap out of the lettuce packer?

  18. bluegus32 says:

    WindowSeat: You are correct. The insurance company will likely pick up the tab and then determine whether to go after the lettuce packer for contribution.

    Or, it is possible that Taco Bell is self-insured. In which case, they pick up their own tab and then decide whether to seek contribution from the lettuce packer.

  19. gadgetchic says:

    i live in that area. i went to the same taco bell he went to, i’m fine.

  20. bluegus32 says:

    gadgetchic said: “i live in that area. i went to the same taco bell he went to, i’m fine.”

    Are you sure? You don’t look so good. Maybe you should sit down. How about some cold water and a lawsuit?

  21. Legodude522 says:

    I eat Taco Bell all the time (And I live in NJ). I do get sick sometimes but thats always from eating too much and drinking way too much soda.

    Now is a good time to take advantage of the free burritos! They give a coupon with each meal. No purchase necessary to get the free burrito.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    Whatever happened to Taco Bell washing the lettuce before serving it?