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What You Can Do When Your Caterer Sickens You (And Your Guests)

Posted in Food Safety on July 1, 2018

By: Wayne Cohen.

When you hire a catering company for your private event, you expect them to do their job without any sort of hiccups. I mean, this is what they do, right? They are trained to make tasty, safe good for your guests. They have licenses for it. Training for it. And likely, they’ve had several discussions with the health department to ensure their operation is working in tip-top shape? Food poisoning should be the last worry on your mind when it comes to the details of planning your event, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the case sometimes. What happens if one of the guests gets food poisoning? What if they (or you) find something inedible in the food (such as a hair, a bug, or even worse, a metal object)? What if one of the employees of the catering company is harassing a guest? Or worse, what if they are sick and contaminating the food? What if a guest is over-served alcohol and gets a DUI? It is enough to make even the most seasoned party-host’s head spin.

Any of these may happen at a catering event, or any event for that matter, and it is important to know that you have rights to sue the person or entity at fault.

What Can I Do if There is Negligence?

Not sure where to start? The good news is that there are a few very simple things you can do to make sure you protect yourself and your guests when it comes to making a legal claim.

  1. If there is illness, before you do anything, get medical attention (or make sure anyone else sick gets medical attention. Early onset of medical attention could help reduce the risk of the severity of illness and long-term complications.
  2. If you believe that you have experienced any form of negligence at the hands of a catering company, it is important to not talk to any of the catering employees.
  3. Do not talk to the manager or accept any offers he or she may offer you to compensate for the negligence at the event.
  4. Call a lawyer right away if you believe that you have experienced negligence at the hands of a catering company. You may have rights to compensation, depending on the type of negligence experienced at the catering event. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the better your chances are of having a successful claim.
  5. If there are illnesses involved, report them to the local health department. The health department can start an investigation into what may have made everyone sick.

Some states have a specific time frame where you must file a claim or a case, and if that time frame passes before you report the entity at fault, they may not be considered liable. This is another reason why talking to an attorney right away can help you know what to do.


Some forms of negligence you may experience at a catering event may include:

Food Poisoning – If you or another guest experiences food poisoning shortly after a catering event, it is advised to see a medical professional and contact a food poisoning lawyer. Again, early medical attention can reduce the risk of severity of illness and potential long-term complications.

Some signs of food poisoning may include: fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and extreme stomach cramps. The symptoms of food poisoning may not begin to show until days after the catering event, or they may happen within minutes or hours after. It is important to know the warning signs of food poisoning, and if you believe you or a guest contracted it from the event, it is advised to consult with an attorney. You may have rights to compensation.

Harassment – If you or another guest is being harassed by an employee at a catering event, it is advised to tell the manager immediately. You will most likely not receive any sort of legal compensation (unless the harassment is extreme), but you may find justice in having the offender terminated from their position. If the manager is the one harassing guests, go to their supervisor and explain the situation. If the circumstances are extreme enough, the employee may be terminated and you may not have to pay for the catering. Part of a catering company’s job is to provide a pleasant experience for guests, so if one is being harassed by an employee, you may not be responsible to pay them for the catering.

Over-Serving Alcohol – If one of your guests at the catering event is over-served alcohol at the hands of an employee, you may or may not have rights to compensation. This is one of the trickier forms of negligence at a catering event because each state has different laws regarding who is liable after damage has been done by an overly intoxicated person. Some states may protect the catering company from any liability of damages done by the intoxicated, while others may be more willing to sue the catering company for over-serving. This all depends on the state you reside in and the circumstances and damages done by the intoxicated person.

What Can I Do to Prevent This in My Future Events?

There are steps an event host can take to help prevent these types of issues at their event. Here are some additional steps you can take to help reduce the risk:

  • It is always recommended to hire a reputable, insured catering company. You can ask for a copy of their insurance policy if you have concerns.
  • You can look or ask for client reviews. Yelp and Google are great places to find this type of information.
  • You can contact the health department and check out their latest inspection reports.
  • Also, it may be a good idea to get your event details in writing, including a list of what is being served to your guests.

MakeFoodSafe thanks our friends and contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C., for helping us get the word out about your rights when it comes to catering negligence.