If I hired an unlicensed and uninsured caterer and people got food poisoning, can we be sued?

The caterer also happens to be my brother (I wanted to save money). People at the event got food poisoning (or so they say). He is a former catering manager at a resort and is certified in Servsafe. I have used him on several occasions and have had no problems. Now, weeks later we are getting calls that the people who were sick in the beginning are still upset about it and one person says they are still sick.

Asked on December 29, 2010 under Personal Injury, North Carolina

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The people who became ill with food poisoning could sue you for negligence.  As an employer, you would be liable for the negligence of your employee (the caterer) which occurred within the course and scope of his employment.  You would be liable for negligent hiring of an unlicensed caterer and negligent supervision of the employee.  Both you and your brother would be named as defendants in the lawsuit for negligence.

Those who are claiming food poisoning could seek damages (monetary compensation in their lawsuits) based on their medical bills, pain and suffering, and any wage loss.  The medical reports will document the nature and extent of their injuries and will be used to claim compensation for pain and suffering.  Compensation for pain and suffering is an amount in addition to their medical bills.  Compensation for the medical bills and wage loss is straight reimbursement.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Yes, it is possible that you could be personally sued (and, of course, your brother and/or his business could be sued) on the following grounds or for the following reasons:

1) If you knew--as you apparently did--that you broker was unlicensed, it might be considered that employing an unlicensed caterer was a negligent, or unreasonably careless, act.

2) Even if employing an unlicensed caterer would not be considered negligent in and of itself, if the food poisoning occured because of something under your control and which was negligent (e.g. your refrigorator is bad and did not keep food cold enough; or you bought supplies from a sketchy or not reputable source to save money; or there was a lack of hygene at facilities under your control) that could give rise to liability.

3) If it's determined that your brother was sufficiently under your control in how he did the work, that might make you vicarously liable.

By using someone who is not insured, you made yourself a target who those who sue him and want to recover compensation, but cannot get it from him (e.g. he or his business don't have sufficient assets).


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