Who Is Liable if a Customer Chokes in a Business Establishment?

business lawyer lawsuitThere’s nothing funny about choking hazards. Even though children are generally considered to be at higher risk of choking than adults, anyone can fall victim to this peril. In fact, in 2015, 2,848 of the 5,051 choking deaths in the U.S. were people over the age of 74. This is important information to consider if you own or operate a restaurant. No one wants to feel responsible for someone choking at their business. But who is liable if a customer chokes on their dinner?

Can Businesses Be Held Liable for Choking?


Generally speaking, your business shouldn’t be liable if someone chokes while at the establishment. However, that doesn’t mean you can just stand by and do nothing. If you notice someone choking in your vicinity, the best thing to do is call the police. If you do that much, you should be off the hook when it comes to liability concerns. The case Breaux v. Gino’s, Inc. exemplifies this, as a customer choked and died in the restaurant. A manager called 911 for help, but didn’t make any effort to perform the Heimlich or any other technique. The court found the business was not liable because the manager took the step of calling 911.

If no one from the restaurant or company calls 911, then you may find yourself in murkier waters. This is why it’s essential that all businesses get general liability insurance, to protect against unfortunate accidents (such as a slip and fall). It’s also possible that you could find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being sued for actually trying to administer the Heimlich or CPR and being unsuccessful. It’s unlikely that most people would pursue this kind of litigation; but it’s certainly possible—especially if an employee were to do this instead of immediately calling 911. So, the bottom line is to always call for an ambulance before doing anything else. Of course you want to help your customers. And if you have employees with medical certification of some kind, they should attempt to save a life if it comes down to that. It isn’t, however, necessary to proving you aren’t liable for someone choking in your establishment.

How Can You Lower the Chances of Someone Choking?

Now that you know the essence of liability when it comes to people choking in a business, you can take strides toward lower its probability. Alcohol is unsurprisingly a factor that increases one’s likelihood of choking on something. Since alcohol impairs your judgement, you are more likely to try to eat something too fast, or take too big of bites without chewing properly. Talking while eating also increases the risk of choking, which is a habit of people who have had a bit too much to drink.

Two of the most popular bar snacks—popcorn and nuts—are also some of the worst foods in regards to being a choking hazard. This means that bars that serve food need to be particularly careful when it comes to the safety of their customers. Things can get out of control very fast if someone starts choking at a bar, and it then overcome by people around them trying to offer help. It’s essential that you enforce a strict sobriety rule for your bartenders and tell them exactly what to do in the event of a choking person: call 911 and clear the area around the affected individual. Failing to take these precautions can have disastrous effects if someone ends up choking to death in your establishment.

No one wants to think about someone choking at their business. However, this is something that happens, and therefore needs to be considered by business owners who want to protect themselves from liability.




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