Hepatitis and Illness Outbreaks at Restaurants: Who is Liable?

In Ybor City, there is now one less place to party. Hamburger Mary’s, a popular restaurant chain known for its drag shows, announced this week that they will be permanently closing their Ybor City location. While patrons might be sad to see the Ybor City location go, the closure is because of an important safety reason: a worker at the restaurant tested positive for hepatitis A.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis occurs when the liver—the largest organ in the body that digests food, stores energy, and removes poisons—becomes inflamed. Inflammation can be the result of drug use or excessive alcohol consumption, but viruses are the most common culprit. There are three main types of virus-caused hepatitis: A, B, and C. Hepatitis spreads when a person ingests fecal matter from an infected person. For example, if an infected person does not wash their hands after using the restroom and then touches food, anyone who eats that food has the potential to become infected. It also spreads through sex or sharing needles. Drug users, gay and bisexual men, and people who work as caregivers are among the most common victims.

Hepatitis Symptoms and Complications

Hepatitis A, B, and C all have very similar symptoms, including:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Stomach pain
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin or eyes

For some people, the symptoms might be mild and go away without treatment. For others, hepatitis symptoms can be severe or long-lasting. Hepatitis is rarely fatal, but can lead to later complications, including an increased risk of liver cancer, liver failure, or cirrhosis, extensive scarring on the liver. It can also pass from a pregnant woman to her child, making hepatitis a particular concern for pregnant women.

Since it quickly spreads through food or drinks, restaurants are a common source of hepatitis outbreaks. Just one infected employee—who might not even know that they’re infected—can potentially infect hundreds of people.

What Determines Restaurant Liability?

Like with other foodborne illness cases, the first step in a hepatitis liability case is to determine where the exposure occurred. This can be difficult, as it can be a challenge to narrow down the exact source of an illness. For example, if only one person becomes ill after eating at a restaurant, the lack of other victims suggests that the exposure did not occur at the restaurant. On the other hand, if multiple people fall ill after all eating at the same restaurant, it will be easier to narrow down the issue.

The next step is determining who is at-fault for the outbreak. If an employee didn’t wash their hands before handling food, for example, they might seem like the responsible party. However, the restaurant could also be at fault. For example, if a restaurant knew that a worker had hepatitis but failed to take action, the restaurant could be liable for any resulting illnesses. Similarly, if a restaurant failed to notify patrons of an outbreak, it could also lead to liability issues.

In the situation with the Ybor City location of Hamburger Mary’s, there have been no reported illnesses linked to the infected employee.

Restaurant liability cases over hepatitis and other illnesses are usually complicated and never fun! That is why it’s important to be aware of recent outbreaks and your rights as a restaurant patron.


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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