The legal precedence of Franke’s, Inc V. Bennett has not been completely resolute over the years. Minder v. Cielito Lindo reinforced the standard of dismissing inferential evidence in food poisoning cases. One case in California reviewed in the Late-2000’s Sarti V.. Salt Creek challenges this standard. In most instances, the burden of proof has been on the plaintiff. Evidence-based upon inferences and circumstantial evidence has generally failed to find foodservice providers liable for damages. We cannot attribute culpability for foodborne illness without causation. This is not to diminish the physical, psychological, and monetary costs that food-related infections impose on victims. Rather, nullifying evidence based on inferences makes the delivery of justice more balanced. Many could point to such jurisprudence and claim that it skewed towards shielding businesses. This is not the case. If the law is tilted towards victims there is no incentive to start a restaurant. Even based upon scant evidence you may be responsible for thousands, if not millions of dollars’ worth of damages. Most detrimental of all is the blighted reputation within the community. For a family-owned eatery is the kiss-of-death.
It is important to remember that most restaurants in America are small businesses. They cannot whether bad publicity or multi-million-dollar lawsuits. If an eatery was responsible for causing illness, it fair that they endure these costs. If not, it simply a miscarriage of justice. Especially when the illness could have been attributed to another source. Slanting the Scales-of-Justice is simply the opposite of a system that is biased towards business interest. Unfortunately, due to a significant amount of anti-market sentiment, many people would prefer a legal system that is stacked in favor of the victim. Justice requires balance. Molding the application of the law to the prejudices of the people is nothing more than judicial mob rule. Making the notion of justice something of a misnomer. Paralleling the flawed reasoning behind reverse-discrimination. It is still discrimination that is skewed towards the favor of a minority group. Interpreting law in a manner that favors the victim over the business owner is injustice. Despite conventional wisdom.
The Sarti Case dates back to April 2005. Alexis Sarti and a friend dined at the Salt Creek Grill. They split an appetizer that contained raw ahi tuna. Sarti developed nausea and chills the next day. Then for the next ten days suffered persistent chills, fever, and diarrhea. Twelve days later she could not move her legs and was taken into the intensive care unit. Where she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. After being tested it was confirmed that she was suffering from a Campylobacter infection. Campylobacter is a pathogen that is not associated with consuming raw tuna, making it likely that the appetizer Sarti ate was cross-contaminated with raw chicken. Sarti had a long recovery. Using a walker for eight-months after the incident. Only regaining forty percent of her previous stamina.
Sarti was awarded $725,000 in economic damages and $2.5 million for her suffering by the jury’s verdict. Less than a month after Sarti’s meal the Orange County Department of Health identified several practices by the eatery that could lead to cross-contamination. Despite the evidence implicating the restaurant, there was plenty of exculpatory factors that shed doubt upon Sarti’s illness originating from Salt Creek.
“…substantial evidence on which the jury could have found the restaurant not liable: Sarti’s friend who split the appetizer did not get sick. The Salt Creek Grille takes great pains to separate its raw tuna from its raw chicken, including defrosting it in a different place in the walk-in freezer than where the chicken is stored, having the chef use a newly cleaned cutting board for the tuna, and preparing the tuna at the opposite end of the cook’s line from where the chicken is cooked. Chicken is prepared in its separate room. Different colored cutting boards are used for tuna and chicken, and the same chef does not prepare both items. And Sarti herself worked as a supermarket checker the day she became ill, and could, at least in theory, have picked up campylobacter from a leaking bag of raw chicken she might have scanned.”
The judge found that there was enough evidence to avoid a JNOV. Meaning the judge found all of the evidence substantial enough to award damages. It’s important to note that this goes against past precedence. There is enough compelling evidence to doubt that source of the foodborne infection was not Salt Creek, but another possible source. Based upon the Minder ruling much of Satri’s case would be inadmissible. Yes, it is fair to award damages due to the severity of Satri’s illness. However, did the court direct liability to the correct party? If the depart of health did find Campylobacter bacterium on any of the surfaces of the Salt Creek kitchen, there wouldn’t be as much doubt. It’s the shadow of doubt cast on this case that makes it difficult to fully condone the court’s decision. It would be fair to argue that this a salient failure in Tort jurisprudence. The Minder/ Franke’s standard at least has a bulwark against the misapplication of liability. Stray from this variant of adjudication incentivizes the dishonest to engage in litigation for the intend of rent-extraction. For the honest, to attribute blame to the wrong culprit. This has the power to ruin lives. Something rarely considered in today’s litigious landscape.