Agricultural Economic Report No. (AER-799) 45 pp

April 2001

Product Liability and Microbial Foodborne Illness

This report examines how product liability law treats personal injuries attributed to microbially contaminated foods. The risk of lawsuits stemming from microbial foodborne illness and the resulting court-awarded compensation may create economic incentives for firms to produce safer food. It is not known how many consumers seek compensation for damages from contaminated foods because information about complaints and legal claims involving foodborne illness is not readily accessible, especially for cases that are settled out of court. Reviewing the outcomes of 175 jury trials involving foodborne pathogens, the analysis identifies several factors that influence trial outcomes, while noting that the awards won by plaintiffs tend to be modest.

Keywords: foodborne illness, food safety, jury verdict, personal injury, product liability

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Last updated: Sunday, April 01, 2001

For more information contact: Jean C. Buzby, Paul Frenzen, and Barbara Rasco