There are numerous sources which disseminate information regarding mobile vending. The sources that authorize individuals to operate mobile vending businesses out of their homes are providing bad information. Operating a mobile business from a home base exposes you and your family to legal and financial liabilities.
Unfortunately, we live in a very litigious society today. Even a fully licensed and registered mobile vending operation should carry liability insurance to protect themselves from frivolous law suits. Hypothetically, if a customer became ill after eating food prepared by your mobile vending operation, you could be sued for any medical bills and lost wages that arise out of the illness, in addition to pain and suffering. As an unregistered mobile food vendor, you may also be found negligent because you were operating without the permission of the health authority. Negligence would significantly increase the amount of damages awarded by the courts. Ignorance does not negate negligence which means that “I didn’t know” is not a justifiable defense against the suit.
If a lawsuit were brought against you, you would need to hire an attorney to defend you which would cost thousands of dollars. If you failed to respond to the lawsuit, a default judgment would be made against you, which could severely affect your credit. In some states, a lien could be placed against your home and property to satisfy the judgment. It is feasible for a default judgment to be awarded for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most attorneys, who represent the plaintiffs, take these types of cases on a contingency basis which means they receive a significant portion of the any amount awarded. Because their payment relies on recouping money awarded by a judgment, these attorneys will be relentless in their collection efforts against you.
If you solicit your products on private property, a disgruntled customer might contact the owner of the property to request that your presence be restricted. A knowledgeable owner who realizes that your operation is not permitted by the local health authority will request that you vacate the premises because he does not wish to share in your liability. Once an owner is notified that you are not permitted by the local health authority and that your products have caused an illness, their failure to restrict access implies authorization. This, if well documented, can may him a co-defendant in your lawsuit.
If a disgruntled customer contacts the local health authority, an investigation will occur. If a health inspector observes you operating a mobile vending unit without a permit, you will be cited for operating without a permit. In most jurisdictions, the health authority will file a case in municipal or county court against you. You would be required to come to court to answer the charge of operating without a permit. If you fail to appear in court, a warrant could be issued for your arrest. Receiving a citation for operating with a mobile vending permit is similar to receiving a traffic ticket and is just as difficult to defend. The word of a licensed health official is given greater weight in a court of law. If you plead guilty (as most do) or are found guilty, you will be fined. The lowest fine I have observed is $250.
Some mobile vendors will continue to operate even after being issued a citation. This is hazardous because while the initial charge of operating without a permit is a class C misdemeanor, subsequent charges can elevate you to higher class misdemeanor requiring jail time. In addition, an inspector may not inform you that a food borne illness involving your unit has been reported, but in most cases the inspector will complete a follow-up after the first citation and will issue a subsequent citation each time you are observed operating without a permit. In some jurisdictions, an operator can earn jail time within only a week of operation.