Choked Up: Choking Hazards and Liability

Have you ever accidentally swallowed a piece of gum or had a sip of water go down the wrong pipe? If you have, you know that the scary feeling of having something stuck in your throat. Now imagine that you have something even bigger, like a stray piece of metal or a bit of chicken bone, lodged in your throat. For people who come into accidental contact with choking hazards due to product defects or restaurant negligence, this situation quickly becomes a terrifying reality.

A Scary Medical Emergency

Choking is a type of medical emergency that occurs when a foreign object becomes stuck in the throat or windpipe. Food is a common culprit, but others include small objects like marbles and coins, and toys with small, breakable parts.

In some cases, a choking person can dislodge the foreign object by coughing or clearing their throat. But sometimes, they cannot dislodge the item, and may show signs like:

  • Inability to speak
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Blue color in the nails, skin, and lips
  • Flushed, pale, or blue skin
  • Loss of consciousness

If the object is not removed, they may experience a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can be deadly or lead to long-term complications, like a traumatic brain injury. This is why quick thinking and action is vital.

Helping a Choking Victim

To help a choking victim, the most commonly used method is the Heimlich maneuver. It involves standing behind the victim and pressing hard into their abdomen with a closed fist in upwards strokes. This hopefully dislodges the foreign object, allowing the victim to breathe again.

While quick thinking and good Samaritans can make a big difference, choking is still a major cause of death in the United States. According to the National Safety Council, it is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death. It most often affects young children and elderly people.

Many times, choking occurs due to accidents. But sometimes, choking occurs as the result of someone else’s negligence. For example, if a toy company knows about a easily breakable part, but does not issue a recall, they might be liable if a child chokes while playing. Or if a bit of metal falls into someone’s salad due to a restaurant’s unsanitary procedures, their negligence could mean they are liable.

Choking and Product Liability

For product liability cases, the injured party must show that the company was negligent in not warning people about the hazard. They must also show that the product was being used in the intended manner. For example, if a child was simply playing with a toy and it broke into small pieces, leading to a choking hazard, the toy company could be liable, because the product was being used as intended.

Restaurant Liability

In a restaurant setting, the restaurant or its employees could be responsible for a choking incident. In restaurants, choking is often caused by foreign objects that sneak into a meal due to unsanitary conditions or ineffective practices. It is not generally the result of malicious intent, but restaurants still have a duty to safely serve their patrons. Even an accidental act of negligence can have big consequences. Restaurants can also be liable if they fail to help a choking patron. If someone is choking, restaurants are expected to assist with emergency medical treatment or seek help. If they ignore a distressed patron, they could be liable for their failure to help.

Can I Sue for Injuries During Lifesaving Techniques?

Finally, liability issues can also arise from improper treatment during a choking emergency. If the Heimlich maneuver is performed improperly, the choking victim could suffer from injuries like broken ribs or throat injuries. Generally, however, choking victims do not sue someone for injuries that occurred during lifesaving techniques. Good Samaritan laws also protect people from being liable for injuries that occur during lifesaving techniques.

Choking can happen very quickly, but the aftermath is often very complex. There are many factors to consider when trying to hold someone liable for a choking injury or death. Some cases require legal help to sort through the facts.

When someone is choking, quick thinking and swift action can save a life. This means that while it’s important to know your rights as a consumer or restaurant patron, it’s also important to learn about the Heimlich maneuver and choking prevention, so that you can recognize and treat a choking event before it gets worse.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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