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By: Jake Carroll
On June 30, 2017, the Georgia Court of Appeals released a divided opinion addressing the sufficiency of evidence needed to sustain a claim for food poisoning. The case arises out of a BBQ style rehearsal dinner (the #1 “Fun Rehearsal Dinner Theme” by the Knot.com) where, according to the opinion, 17 guests became ill after eating the food of Big Kev’s BBQ, a Morgan County establishment. Some of the guests later sued, alleging that the food prepared and served by Big Kev’s at the dinner had been negligently prepared, was unsavory and contaminated, and made them ill in the days after the dinner.
On appeal, the Court issued a 5-4 decision holding that a person “may prevail in food poisoning cases in Georgia by establishing that the food at issue was defective or unwholesome.” Georgia law also requires that “in the absence of direct evidence of the defectiveness of the food, recovery can be supported by circumstantial evidence only if every other reasonable hypothesis as to the cause of the [persons]’ illness can be excluded by the evidence brought forward. . . .” The Court upheld the trial court’s decision that the guests did not satisfy their burden of proof.
While this holding is not a notable change in Georgia law, two separate dissents reveal strong disagreement on the bench as to whether the trial court improperly “invaded the province of the jury” or misinterpreted the evidence in failing to satisfy the burden of proof. In either event, attorneys for the rehearsal dinner guests filed their notice of intent to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court on July 10, 2017, and practitioners are eager to see if the dissent got it right. However, Rule 40 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Georgia dictates that the high court is unlikely to review the case as to the sufficiency of the evidence, but may review the opinion on the issue of whether the trial court improperly acted as the jury.
For any questions, please contact Jake Carroll at [email protected].