I am a vegetarian for religious reasons. I was at Chipotle on Saturday and ordered a sofritas rice bowl which is "vegan approved". To my surprise, I found a chunk of chicken in my bowl when I was halfway through eating it. Made me feel sick to the stomach realizing that I may have eaten chicken already.

Went back to the Order desk and showed the server meat in my bowl. They immediately offered a refund and asked if I wish to file a complaint. The manager brought out a complaint form and filled for me. Gave me a copy as well. I did not take any refund. just walked out, I was very upset.

My question is: Can I take a legal action against Chipotle?

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    It was most likely a mistake on the part of the Chipotle workers rather than them actively desiring to cause you emotional harm, and they offered you a refund and the ability to submit a complaint as an attempt to make up for the mistake. Even if you could take legal action, I would say it would be unethical in this situation to do so. At the very least, it would be a significant overreaction given that neither you nor they intended for chicken to end up in your dish. – JAB Mar 19 '18 at 15:36
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    At what point do your dietary restrictions become someone else's responsibility? From a legal standpoint, I suppose this isn't a bad question (other than the fact millions of food orders are wrong every day, making this one not special). From a personal standpoint, this is absurd, unless you are claiming they did it on purpose to spite your religion. You should probably clarify your question. – Clay07g Mar 19 '18 at 18:46
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    “I am putting my blind faith in them”: I truly envy the trust you put in perfect strangers. – DaG Mar 19 '18 at 21:25
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    @user559788 Chipotle prepares their food right in front of you. Right beside the meat. Your meal was prepared not 2 feet away from about a dozen animal products. If you have vision, these risks are clear. Chipotle doesn't care about vegans, they care about sales. As a vegan, stop going there. They aren't making great effort to adapt to your restrictions. That does not in any way entitle you to monetary compensation, other than a refund. Chipotle made a mistake, they aren't trying to trick you. There's nothing illegal about poor service. – Clay07g Mar 19 '18 at 21:56
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    They made a mistake. They acknowledged it. They offered refund and possibility to file a complaint. Why would you need to sue them if they voluntarily offered to pay for that mistake? Becoming upset simply because someone made a mistake is rude. You could be upset if they were refusing to acknowledge. One can only avoid mistakes if he doesn't do anything. Now all that you want is to get easy money from them and it has nothing to do with the harm their mistake has created. You should have accepted their offer if it was important for you to get compensation. – ElmoVanKielmo Mar 20 '18 at 8:43

An essential component of your contract with them is that they will provide you with food free of animal stuff (the exact nature of "vegan approved" may be up for debate, but actual meat should not be included). So they breached their contract with you, and you might sue them for breach of contract.

The case of Gupta v. Asha (orders were mixed up) could be useful in this matter. In this case, Hindus were served samosas containing beef, despite repeated assertions that they were vegetarian. Plaintiffs sued, the case was dismissed, and the appeals court deemed that the lower court was part right and part wrong.

The important thing to understand is that you have to claim a specific legal wrong (and your attorney would advise you about that). Those plaintiffs made a claim under NJ product liability law, and that was dismissed because the product wasn't defective, it was simply the wrong product.

They also made a claim regarding fraud, and there was at least a legal question behind that claim, but because there was no ascertainable loss (e.g. the plaintiffs were not hospitalized because of the omission), so that claim too was dismissed. Likewise a negligence claim was dismissed.

Plaintiffs did get to first base w.r.t. the claim of emotional distress arising from breach of contract. I have no evidence regarding the final disposition of the case: the point is that there might be a legal basis for a lawsuit in your state, but you would need to secure the paid assistance of an attorney.

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    Along these lines, keep your eye out for general disclaimers posted in the store, presumably to avoid claims like this (often saying something like "we make every effort to keep 'vegan' products vegan but accidents may occur"). – bta Mar 19 '18 at 20:28
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    .... And to add, since there are no legal definitions for vegan food labels and such, these disclaimers may not even be required. In this case, it might even be implicit, as Chipotle makes the food right in front of you, where you can see your vegan dish being prepared 8 inches away from a bunch of different meats, and then subsequently packaged without inspection. – Clay07g Mar 19 '18 at 22:14
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    It's also important to note that in some jurisdictions, the offer of a refund could be considered a settlement offer, and rejecting settlement offers cannot always be done blindly without having some prejudicial effect. This is highly fact dependent, but a superficial breach of contract damages estimate here would place it at the value of the meal. The restaurant offered to refund the value of the meal. Is there sufficient likelihood that the award after trial would substantially exceed that offer? That's an important part of the analysis, and the answer may not be immediately obvious. – K_foxer9 Mar 19 '18 at 23:48
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    This answer, whilst correct, seems extremely incomplete. The remedy a court would find for the breach of contract (where I live, and to the best of my knowledge) would be undoing the contract (i.e. a refund) and any damages ($0, unless OP has a meat allergy). So taking legal action would just be a very expensive way to get the refund that OP was immediately offered and has already refused. – Scott Mar 20 '18 at 0:37
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    @Scott I think the meat of the question (sigh) is whether the damages are indeed $0 or not. That probably depends on the OP's circumstances/arguments. If you consider the McDonald's 2001 case where they paid $10 million to various religious and vegetarian groups, or Taco Bell who settled in 1999 a $144000 suit after a similar situation, there's some history for nonzero damages. (I suspect it also depends to some extent on the prevailing culture and that of the judge, e.g. I wonder how the typical American would react if told they'd just eaten human meat, and how much a judge would sympathize.) – ShreevatsaR Mar 20 '18 at 4:09

The goal of civil proceedings is to make the injured party whole.

Your damages amount to the cost of the meal that you ordered. You have no other demonstrable, concrete damages. If you were, for example, so deeply emotionally scarred by eating the food Chipotle offered that you developed an eating disorder and needed to see a therapist, you could probably sue for the cost of the therapy (or your insurance would do it for you). As it stands, your damages are the cost of the meal.

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    Suppose I make 80$ an hour and due to this mental trauma I now check through all my food myself at every restaurant I eat at before taking a bite. Suppose it takes 3 minutes to check thoroughly and I eat out twice a day. This goes on for the remaining 30 years of my life. That's arguably ~$87600 in damages right there without even getting near therapy level issues. This is a reality for many vegans and vegetarians due to this kind of negligence. Some places are even worse, they will intentionally tell you an item is vegan that isn't in order to up-sell it to you. – ttbek Mar 19 '18 at 21:10
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    @ttbek Those 3 minutes are your free time. No one cares if you spend it picking at your food. Second, if every wrong order could potentially lose a restaurant hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees, you would probably never see a restaurant again. Let me make this very clear: your disgust has no legal or monetary value. If you don't like the way a company handles your food, don't give them money. – Clay07g Mar 19 '18 at 21:50
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    @ttbek: an argument could easily be made that if you have a restrictive diet that it falls on you to check your food prior to eating it anyway. – NotMe Mar 19 '18 at 22:51
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    @ttbek - I'm kind of with you, but having served on a jury for an actual "pain and suffering" lawsuit in Oklahoma, from that experience I'd suggest finding a different argument in this state at least. My jury at least had no sympathy whatsoever to what looked to them like an attempt to cash in off of a simple accident. – T.E.D. Mar 20 '18 at 13:43
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    @DavidFoerster: It's a useful analogy to help omnivores understand the perspective of a vegetarian, nothing more. I'm willing to believe that some vegetarians may be as disgusted by finding chicken in their food as they would by finding roaches. But I also agree that (unfortunately for the vegetarians), that's mostly their problem, and it's unreasonable to expect the measures to prevent order mixups to be as effective as the measures to prevent vermin. I think ttbek understands this, too, based on the end of the comment about letting it go when discovering a mistake after the fact. – Peter Cordes Mar 22 '18 at 3:33

protected by feetwet Mar 20 '18 at 1:15

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