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4 facts about food poisoning and lawsuits you should know

True food poisoning is a lot more severe than most people realize. A lot of people tend to think of it as something that just leaves you trapped near a bathroom and feeling lousy for a few hours or a day at most. In reality, it can seriously injure or even kill you.

Food poisoning is making big news these days thanks to the fact that romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli has now been found in at least 29 states. Ironically, this means that people are now realizing that "salad" can be just as dangerous as under-cooked meat when they go out to dinner.

If you think you may have eaten contaminated food, here are a few important things you should know:

1. The illness can strike several hours or days after you eat.

Symptoms seldom strike immediately. Gastric upset within an hour of dinner is more likely a reaction to something else, like seasonings, then actual food poisoning — although you should always seek medical treatment if you're concerned.

2. Illness from food poisoning can last a week or longer and may require hospitalization.

Because of the vomiting, diarrhea and fever involved, dehydration can become a serious issue. People with weakened immune systems, those with other medical problems, e.g., heart conditions, the elderly and the very young are particularly vulnerable to serious reactions. Roughly 128,000 victims end up in the hospital yearly due to complications, and about 3,000 of those people die. Never delay treatment if you're sick.

3. Lawsuits based on food poisoning can be difficult to pursue — but not impossible.

When there's a big outbreak like the one involving the romaine lettuce, the government's efforts to trace the source of the contamination often helps victims who need to pursue a case. However, smaller outbreaks can also be successfully traced to their source. It's wise to involve an attorney early in the process, while you're still sick. That increases the odds that the right tests will be done and the right evidence collected.

4. Keep in mind that damages in a personal injury case are heavily tied to your losses.

If you're only sick for a day or so, that's an inconvenience but it might not be worth a lawsuit. The bigger your financial hardship from the illness, the more likely you should pursue a claim.

Source: FindLaw, "Food Poisoning: A Legal FAQ," accessed May 11, 2018

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