An honest mistake at a restaurant can sometimes turn deadly when allergies are involved, but most restaurant employees try to take every possible precaution when assisting a patron with an allergy. Sometimes though, restaurateurs try to cut corners and ignore the needs of their diners. In the first case of its kind, a London restaurant owner was convicted of manslaughter for his role in an easily preventable death related to a curry served at his restaurant. Here’s what a Del Mar criminal lawyer has to say about this groundbreaking case and what it means for restaurateurs in San Diego.
A basic look at this case will show you that this was no simple mistake. Restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman tried to save money any way he could, including switching out peanuts for almonds in many of his curry dishes and hiring undocumented, poorly trained workers. He had previously been warned against continuing this practice after a previous customer suffered an allergic reaction. When the victim involved in the manslaughter case told the restaurant of his allergy, he was told he would be accommodated and his takeout container even stated “no nuts.” Unfortunately, only one bite triggered the victim’s allergy and killed him.
Zaman’s lawyer used what most La Jolla defense attorneys would agree was possibly the best defense for the businessman, pointing out that not only was Zaman not there when the fatal dish was prepared, but that he left his managers to run his restaurant, including what ingredients to use and how to prepare the meals. The prosecutors disagreed, stating that they were sending an important message to clear message to restaurateurs, that “there is a duty of care to your customers.” Zaman was sentenced to six years in prison.
So could this happen in the US, specifically in California? Possibly, says Hillcrest defense layer Peter M. Liss. Involuntary manslaughter charges are specifically intended to punish those who took a life but not with the malice and forethought required to secure a murder conviction.
If the victim died without warning there would be no case, but because he was very careful to let the restaurant know he had an allergy and due to the fact that the restaurant had recently been warned about their use of ground peanuts in the dish means that negligence was directly responsible for the victim’s easily-preventable death. While if Zaman generally left his workers to prepare meals and order ingredients, most restaurant owners would step in after the first warning to ensure it did not happen again. Even then though, the prosecution would have to prove Zaman was responsible for the commission of an ordinarily lawful act but that involved a high risk of death or bodily harm, and that was done without due caution or circumspection. In other words, Zaman would have to be aware the customer was being served food which could cause him serious harm.
Zaman did have a strong defense though and it’s possible that he would be found not guilty and that if he was found guilty, his case would be overturned on appeal if it happened in California instead of England.
All manslaughter cases are complex and require the expertise of a National City criminal lawyer who has handled similar cases in the past. If you are under investigation or have been arrested for manslaughter, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image courtesy of pelican