Lawsuits for Injuries Suffered in a Restaurant

Customers who are injured in a restaurant accident in California can file a personal injury claim for damages. Lawsuits for compensation can be filed against:

  • The restaurant owner,
  • Restaurant parent company,
  • Supplier or distributor of food and restaurant equipment,
  • Restaurant staff, or
  • Other patrons or customers.

Compensation in a restaurant accident lawsuit allows the victim to get money damages for medical bills, loss of a paycheck, and pain and suffering.

Injuries in a restaurant accident can include:

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about restaurant accident injury lawsuits:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Restaurant interior
Customers who are injured in a restaurant accident in California can file a personal injury claim for damages.

1. Can I file a personal injury lawsuit for an injury in a restaurant?

In California, when a customer is injured because of the negligent actions of a restaurant or restaurant worker, the injury victim can file a lawsuit for damages. Even if the restaurant was not negligent, a customer may still be able to file a lawsuit if he or she was injured while on restaurant property.

1.1. Elements of a restaurant injury negligence claim

In order to win a personal injury claim based on negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant owed the injury victim a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached the duty of care through negligent action or inaction; and
  3. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim's harm or death.1

1.2. Premises liability lawsuits when injured on restaurant property

Under California's premises liability laws, property owners and occupiers owe a duty to customers and visitors to keep their property in a safe condition. Restaurant owners have a duty to keep the restaurant in good repair, follow state and local safety regulations, and warn customers about any dangerous conditions.

If a restaurant patron is injured in a restaurant because of unsafe conditions of the property, the victim may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the owner. The injury victim has to show:

  1. The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
  2. The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
  3. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  4. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.2

The restaurant owner is responsible for keeping the dining room, waiting area, kitchen, entrance, and restrooms in a safe condition. The restaurant may also be responsible for parking lot safety and walkways to the entrance.

Example: Luther is a manager at a busy bar and grill in San Jose. The restaurant is getting busy, so Luther wants to get his lunch break in. Luther takes his plate spaghetti to the back office to eat. On the way, Luther spills some spaghetti on the floor but he is in a hurry so he will worry about it when he gets back from break.
While Luther is on break, another customer walks through the restaurant and does not see the spilled food. The customer slips on the food, and falls, suffering an injury. If the customer files a lawsuit, the restaurant may be liable for failing to clean up the hazard and for failing to warn customers about the spilled food.

2. What damages can I recover if I am injured in a restaurant?

In a personal injury lawsuit, injury victims can recover compensatory damages for their losses and injuries. Damages may include:

In a serious accident, the injury victim may pass away, leaving them unable to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, a surviving family member may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the death of a loved one. Damages in a wrongful death claim can include funeral and burial expenses, and loss of earnings the deceased would have provided.3

In California, family members who can sue for damages include:

  • Spouse or domestic partner;
  • Children (or grandchildren if there are no surviving children); or
  • Anyone else who is eligible under California intestate succession laws.

3. Who can I sue if I am injured in a restaurant in California?

When filing a personal injury lawsuit, the victim will include as defendants anyone who may have some liability for the accident. This may include individuals and companies, and may involve multiple defendants who share some responsibility for causing the accident.

In a restaurant accident claim, defendants may include:

  • Restaurant owner,
  • Restaurant manager,
  • Parent company,
  • Third-party supplier of food or supplies,
  • Wait staff,
  • Restaurant employees,
  • Other restaurant patrons, or
  • Security staff.
Example: Jake is a bartender at the Chuggers Restaurant in Burbank. Jake is making a cocktail he invented called the Wildfire, which he lights on fire as part of the presentation. Jake goes to hand the drink to a customer and accidentally knocks it over, spilling it onto the lap of Jason, another customer. The flaming drink burns Jason's arm and he goes to the ER for treatment.
Jason can file a personal injury lawsuit against Jake for damages. Jake owed a duty of care to Jason and Jake violated the duty of care by knocking a drink on fire onto Jason, which caused injuries and damage.

An injury victim may not think it is worth it to sue a waiter or bartender for an injury because the employee may not have enough money to pay for the damages. However, employers are vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees. This means the injury victim can file a lawsuit against the restaurant when the employee negligently caused the accident.

Under “Respondeat Superior” laws, the restaurant owner or employer may be liable for the victim's damages caused by an employee's negligence.4

To win a claim against the employer, the victim has to prove the following elements:

  1. The victim was harmed by the employee's negligence; and
  2. The company is responsible for the injuries because the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the incident occurred.5
In the example above, Jason could also file a lawsuit against Chugger's restaurant. Jake was an employee of Chuggers. Jake was acting within the scope of his employment with Chuggers, serving drinks, at the time of the accident. Jason was injured as a result of Jake's negligence. Chuggers is vicariously liable for Jake's negligence and may be liable to Jason for his injuries.

4. What can I do if someone assaulted me at a restaurant?

Not all restaurant injuries are caused by accidents. When someone intentionally injures or harms a restaurant customer, the person who caused the harm may be responsible for assault & battery. Anyone who is harmed by the unprovoked threat or use of force can sue for damages.

Intentional assault or battery could occur between restaurant patrons, a patron and an employee, or an employee assaulted by a co-worker. Assaults in a restaurant often involve intoxicated patrons or overzealous security staff.

Example: Mark goes to Squidees Bar & Grill to meet up with co-workers on Friday. Another customer, William, has been drinking all day and sits at the bar next to Mark and his group. Mark laughs at a joke his friend says and William thinks the group is laughing at his expense. William punches Mark, who suffers a broken nose.
Mark could file a personal injury lawsuit against William for damages. William used willful and unlawful force or violence against Mark. William may be liable for Mark's damages.

5. Can I sue the restaurant for food poisoning?

A restaurant patron may be able to sue the restaurant if he or she is injured because of food poisoning or contaminated food. If the restaurant was negligent in handling the food, the restaurant may be liable for damages. If a supplier or third-party seller provided the restaurant with contaminated food, the supplier may also be liable for damages.

If the restaurant was negligent in training and supervising employees in food safety and food handling, the restaurant may also be liable for any damages based on negligent hiring.6

Example: Restaurant-owner Diane hired Simon as a prep cook for Diane's Lobster and Tacos in Van Nuys. Simon did not have a food handler's card and Diane said not to worry about it, that they could sort it out later. Diane told Simon to break down chickens for an event the restaurant was hosting the next day.
Simon was never trained in food safety. Simon cut up the chicken with various knives and left the chicken on the counter when he went on lunch. Simon forgot to wash his hands after going on break but wanted to hurry to finish the chickens. Simon finally finished cutting up the chickens and put them in a tray in the walk-in. At the event, several people got seriously ill from food poisoning.
Diane may be liable for negligent hiring, training, and supervision. Diane knew Simon was not trained in food safety and did not supervise Simon during the process. Diane may be liable to the injured customers for damages.

6. Can I file a lawsuit if I was partly at fault for my injury at the restaurant?

Anyone injured in a restaurant may still be able to receive damages even if they were partly at fault for the accident. Under California's comparative fault laws, the victim can still receive damages based on their comparative fault. The jury or judge will allocate fault in the case, and victims can have their damages offset by their level of fault.7

Example: Michael is seated in a restaurant. He realizes he left his phone in his car and runs out to get it. While running, Michael trips on a torn piece of carpet and hits his head on a counter, requiring medical treatment. Michael sues the restaurant for $10,000 in damages.
A jury determines that Michael and the restaurant are both partly at fault. The restaurant is at 80% fault for the safety hazard of not fixing the torn carpet. Michael is 20% at fault for running in the restaurant.
Based on each party's level of fault, Michael may be able to recover $8,000 from the restaurant based on the restaurant's percentage of fault ($10,000 x 80% = $8,000).

7. Can I sue my employer if I was injured working in a restaurant in California?

Employees who are injured in a workplace accident may have to go through the workers' compensation claim process instead of filing a personal injury lawsuit. A workers' comp claim does not require the injured employee to show the employer was negligent. However, in exchange, the employee may not be able to recover pain and suffering or other non-economic damages.

Compensation in a workers' comp claim may be limited to medical bills for injuries and wage replacement for the time the employee is unable to work.

In some cases, restaurant workers may be able to file a lawsuit if the injury was caused by a third-party or someone other than the employer. A restaurant worker may also be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for intentional injuries, such as an assault by a coworker.

Example: Sarah is smoking a cigarette out behind the restaurant on her break. The food supplier delivery truck comes by to make a regular delivery. When backing up, the driver's foot slips off the brake, causing the truck to reverse, hitting and breaking Sarah's foot.
Sarah was injured while at her job. However, the injury was caused by a third-party driver. Sarah may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and the food supply company for damages.
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Call us for help...

For questions about restaurant accident lawsuits in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. For cases in Nevada, please visit our page on restaurant injury lawsuits in Nevada.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

  1. California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements. See also Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358.
  3. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  4. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
  5. See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3701 -- Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal--Essential Factual Elements. See also Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal.4th 291, 296–297 (“The rule of respondeat superior is familiar and simply stated: an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of its employees committed within the scope of the employment.“)
  6. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 426 -- Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention of Employee. See also Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1038, 1054 (“California case law recognizes the theory that an employer can be liable to a third person for negligent hiring, supervising, or retaining an unfit employee.”)
  7. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405. See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. (“... you must then decide how much responsibility each has by assigning percentages of responsibility to each person listed on the verdict form. The percentages must total 100 percent.”).

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