The Georgia Supreme Court this week reversed a Morgan County, Georgia superior court and the Georgia Court of Appeals in a case that could become a landmark decision concerning liability in food poisoning in Georgia as well as evidentiary issues concerning circumstantial evidence.
The plaintiffs were a husband and wife to attended a wedding rehearsal dinner catered by the defendant. Afterward, they became ill with symptoms consistent with salmonella and food poisoning. They then learned that other guests who had eaten at the dinner also had become ill, although there was also evidence that some guests ate the food and did not become ill.
The defendant moved for summary judgment after the lawsuit was filed. This procedure is used in an attempt to obtain a ruling that a plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence to the court to allow the case to go to the jury. Here, both the trial court and the Court of Appeals ruled that summary judgment was proper, applying a particularly stringent standard for food poisoning cases, particularly as the evidence involved was circumstantial: the food was not able to be tested, and therefore there was no direct evidence that it was the source of the poisoning. Instead, the plaintiffs relied upon their own illness and that of other guests who became ill after eating it to show that the defendant caterer's food was the likely source of the poisoning.
The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the evidence was sufficient to allow the plaintiffs to present the case to a jury. It rejected the lower courts' requirement of a "special element" of proof of proximate cause in food poisoning cases, and found that the evidence that the plaintiffs presented raised a sufficient issue of fact to be allowed to proceed to trial.
The case is Patterson v. Kevon, LLC, No. S17G1957, 2018 WL 3965745 (Ga. Aug. 20, 2018). John Hadden filed am amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs on behalf of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. Justice Boggs, who authored the opinion, noted that "The Court thanks the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association for its brief amicus curiae."