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Ask a Lawyer: Do Farmers Have the Same Protection as Big Beef?

In this series, we seek (nonbinding, fully disclaimed) legal opinions from practicing lawyer Kenny Ching on matters relating to the world of GOOD. Do you have a question? Leave a comment below or tweet @GOOD with hashtag "goodlawyer."

So let's say you're a local butcher or farmer, and someone dies or gets sick from E.coli or salmonella after eating your food. What happens? Do you have the same legal protection as a huge agricultural company?

Yes. In general, people or businesses that sell food are "strictly liable" for injuries to customers that are caused by their food products. A plaintiff only needs to show the food was defective in order for the food producer to be found liable, and he doesn't need to show any further negligence on the part of the food producer. This applies to restaurants and grocery stores, to the largest agricultural company and the smallest local butcher.

My time in law school and as a practicing attorney has convinced me that, in general, the law is fair. It's no respecter of persons. It doesn't purposefully favor the rich over the poor or the large company over the small local farmer. In fact, the law tends to be protective of the little guy.

The difficulty for the little guy isn't the law itself, but his access to the law. Hiring lawyers is extremely expensive, and a typical joke among lawyers is that they couldn't afford to hire themselves if they had to. Here's a baseball analogy: The problem for the Kansas City Royals isn't that the rules of baseball are unfair. Their problem is that the Yankees and the Red Sox have all the money and sign all the good players. In law, this is what's known as the "access to justice" problem.

So, back to our small local food producer. What should he do? Get insurance, for sure. Perhaps he can join a co-op that will spread the cost of legal services among several small businesses. But if the access to justice problem still seems like a pressing one to you, go to law school, become a public-interest lawyer, and fight the good fight.

Disclaimer: This material is offered only for general informational purposes. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. Although this information is believed to be current, we do not promise or guarantee that the information is correct, complete, or up-to-date. You should not act or rely upon the information in this material without seeking the advice of an attorney.

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