Chipotle’s Latest Outbreak: Could a Thrown Out Case Have Prevented the Illness?

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Chipotle Sees Yet Another Serious Outbreak Months After Food Safety Case Dismissed

A number of Chipotle customers in Virginia fell ill from a foodborne illness. It’s a disaster that’s pushed the company to close the store’s doors Tuesday. Is it possible that Chipotle’s Battles in the courtroom could have prevented the latest norovirus outbreak that closed one of the chain’s stores?

In 2016 shareholders in the fast and fresh food chain filed a lawsuit that claimed Chipotle deceived shareholders about food safety.

Now, only a few short months after Chipotle won this legal victory, several new reports have surfaced saying that Chipotle’s food could be contaminated with Norovirus.

Since the initial outbreak reports broke on Monday, news has spiraled downward for the burrito chain. Chipotle closed their Sterling, Virginia location to conduct “a complete sanitation.” While their employees are “working with health authorities to under the the situation” infecting customers with Norovirus, Chipotle’s stocks have plunged more than 5 percent in less than one hour.

This is Chipotle’s second Norovirus outbreak in recent years. In 2015 80 college students reported symptoms after dining at the same location.

Earlier that year an E. coli outbreak spread across the country and affected hundreds of customers before being resolved.

But who covers the medical bills for those affected by Chipotle’s norovirus outbreaks?

The lawsuit that was thrown out by a New York District Court judge alleged that the chain was deceptive about how seriously it took safety. That the company blamed its suppliers for the outbreak when there was no scientific evidence to support the claims. That the fast-casual’s executive staff suspiciously sold off millions of dollars worth of stock just a few months before the serious food safety outbreaks.

But in this situation the judge ruled that the evidence was insufficient to hold Chipotle accountable for deceiving shareholders about the company’s food safety shortcomings.

How are these issues typically solved? Are consumers left holding the bill from the hospital visit when there’s some pretty clear issues surfacing from the company?

Some find resolution to their issues by suing companies for their negligence. Litigation is just one way that the American consumer can hold negligent burrito chains accountable. What might start in the bathroom can lead to the courtroom for food giants that don’t take safety seriously.

According to some, there’s a situation that’s been brewing in Americans’ food safety arena for decades. Consumer-focused lawyers site that governing bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration simply don’t have the bandwidth or power to regulate the industries under their oversight.

Lapses in regulatory framework make need for consumers to redress their grievances in the judicial system through tort. Some say that tort may be the most effective way of creating a proactive mindset within the food industry. Continue reading to see how:

  • Litigation can influence the food safety business framework
  • Consumers can demand safer food safety practices
  • Both litigation and consumer demand for safety are needed to close the gap in FDA shortcomings

Businesses will always choose to do what is most profitable. Bad actors in food safety will if the money saved by engaging in a risky behavior outweighs the potential costs of litigation in the event a consumer becomes ill. Suppose a company could save money by purchasing a lower quality beef. Suppose that beef must be shipped farther. With a longer transit is there greater risk for contamination? If someone falls seriously ill from the company’s burgers, the amount saved may not be worth it.

Litigation can offer a significant deterrent for risky behavior. An injured person can (and should) seek compensation for the damages experienced due to negligence of a company.

Chipotle customers who were poisoned after visiting the restaurant have sought financial settlements that, among other things, cover their significant medical bills which may include doctor visits and a hospital stay. But is the cost of litigation enough for food companies to halt use of risky practices?

Consumer attitude can change business practices. Chipotle customers abruptly halted their visits to the fast-food chain. A sharp decrease in sales followed weeks worth of headlines centered around contaminations in Chipotle’s key ingredients. Not all publicity is good: Chipotle even closed restaurants in all areas to conduct food safety training days with staff of the restaurants.

Both litigation and consumer perceptions can influence food safety practices.

Can American Consumers Hold Corporations Accountable?

History has shown that some can be critical of legal action as a means to hold companies accountable. They claim that consumers can act to oppose companies whose practices do not meet safety standards by boycotting their business. Or for reporters to highlight issues in businesses practice. Those actions may or may not put enough pressure on a company to change the way they run their business. Boycotting products can be effective in some cases, but not every time. The practice of settling out of court can create some unique challenges to this theory.

In this section, find out how:

  • Settling out of court helps the injured
  • Consumers may be left in the dark when cases are settled out of court

Settling out of court with an insurance company that represents a negligent business may not change a company’s practices. In the case of Chipotle, the company complied with consumer outrage after media reports and the CDC showed shortcomings. A company might review practices for systematic negligence before legal cases become an issue.

But in a landmark tort reform case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, McDonald’s continued to serve coffee at 180 degrees after settling with dozens of burn victims who had consumed their product. It wasn’t until an elderly woman sued and received punitive damages that the fast food chain changed their company-wide practices.

A united consumer population may have the power to change company practices. But the population was not aware of the hot coffee issue until the highly publicized tort reform court case. Leaving the decision up to the corporation’s discretion could put the community at risk for injury if they are uninformed about health risks of eating their products.

Oftentimes companies reach financial settlements without going to court. It allows victims to receive compensation faster. Many people in personal injury cases face debt due to emergency medical costs and long hospital stays. Getting compensation can be vital for the recovery of a personal injury victim. Another positive? It allows the value of settlements and plaintiffs identities to remain unknown to the public. Personal injury cases that settle out of court allow otherwise high profile cases to go unnoticed.

There could be a dark side to closing out of court. It also leaves other details unknown, such as the company’s practices that injured the public.

Why U.S. Needs Accountability from the CDC

The safety for Americans should not rest on brave plaintiffs such as Liebeck. You might remember how the elderly woman was used as a symbol to claim that American lawyers and consumers were overly litigious. The CDC is needed in order to disclose bad actors in the food industry.

Take a look again at Chipotle’s series of foodborne illnesses. When the CDC confirmed the outbreak, that created a legitimacy to the claims and an arena for the media to warn the public. It also created gave pass to the victim’s lawyers just to hash it out over what the case was worth. The public was already made aware of the company’s continued health and safety issues, and there was probably not as great a need for the publicity that might come from a transparent court case.

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