Summary Judgment Granted in Food-Borne Illness Case

Charles Craft v. MEEK MD5, LLC
Chatham County Superior Court
Civil Action File No. CV11-0752-BA
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment granted January, 2013
Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed December 27, 2013

Plaintiff alleged that on October 1, 2010, he ate chicken nuggets purchased at Defendant’s franchise restaurant and, approximately three-and-a-half hours later, began to experience nausea and diarrhea.  Three days later he was diagnosed with Salmonella.  Plaintiff claimed medical bills of $21,777.05 and over $135,000 in lost income and loss of earning capacity.  He alleged the chicken nuggets were undercooked and were the proximate cause of his injuries.

Levy Pruett Cullen represented the Defendant restaurant. The parties conducted discovery, including the depositions of Plaintiff and employees of Defendant, and Defendant retained Dr. Allen Sklaver as its expert in food-borne illness. By affidavit, Dr. Sklaver testified that Department of Health records showed no other cases of salmonella traceable to Defendant’s restaurant, that the restaurant’s cooking temperatures insured that no pathogens could survive, that in most cases of Salmonella it takes at least six hours for the symptoms to begin, and that Plaintiff could have gotten the pathogen in the fruit and cheese he ate in the preceding days or from contaminated water he got in his mouth at work. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that under Georgia law, when a plaintiff has no direct evidence that the defendant’s food was unwholesome, only circumstantial evidence that he became sick after eating it, the plaintiff must exclude every other reasonable hypothesis for the cause of the illness. The trial court agreed that Plaintiff had failed to meet this burden, and the trial court granted summary judgment to Defendant. In an unpublished opinion, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant.