Ask Marge

I Got Food Poisoning from Dinner at a Friend’s House. Can I Ask Her to Cover My Medical Expenses?

published Nov 1, 2019
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Hi, Marge

I was invited to my friend’s house for dinner and got food poisoning. Can I sue her or ask her to pay my medical expenses?


Dear Sickened,

The first question, whether you can sue your friend for causing your food poisoning, is out of my wheelhouse; you’d have to ask a lawyer. As for the second question, yes, you can ask her to cover your medical expenses. But the bigger question is should you?

First, are you sure the meal at this person’s home is what caused your food poisoning? Did other people at the dinner get sick? If not, there is no reason to assume your illness was caused by something you consumed at her home. You can’t go by timing: the onset of symptoms from food poisoning can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 28 days after consuming the contaminated food. (It depends on the specific pathogen that caused it, and there are many.)

Next, consider if your food poisoning was caused by something your host actually did, such as mishandling the food. It could just as easily be that she bought an ingredient that was contaminated — but had no way of knowing it. If your doctor tested you and knows the pathogen that caused your illness, you may be able to figure out which food is to blame. In that case, ask the host where she bought it and talk to the seller. The seller may, in turn, refer you to the grower/manufacturer/producer. If several guests got sick, you may be better off addressing/reporting this as a group. You should absolutely let your local health department know, so they can help prevent others from getting sick. 

Your illness may have been caused by something you ate at your acquaintance’s home, but that does not necessarily make her morally responsible for your medical expenses. If she did something extremely negligent, like leave raw chicken out at room temperature for six hours, one could say she should shoulder responsibility. But the only way you would be likely to know if she did something egregious like that is to interrogate her about her cooking procedures, and I can’t imagine she would subject herself to that.  

As always, you should do unto others as you would like done unto you. If I ate dinner at your house and a few hours later became violently ill, I am guessing you would not pay my medical bills unless you were sure it was caused by something under your control. 

The only circumstances under which I think you should even consider asking the host to contribute to your medical expenses are if you are certain you are ill from something you ate at her house AND the illness was caused by her negligence. 

It may not seem fair, but sometimes sucky things like food poisoning just happen.

— Marge

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