British Columbia

Class action lawsuit launched over listeria outbreak

More than 1,100 people have signed up for a class action lawsuit by a Regina law firm against Maple Leaf Foods, seeking damages from a nationwide outbreak of listeriosis linked to the company's Toronto meat plant.

More than 1,100 people have signed up for a class action lawsuit by a Regina law firm against Maple Leaf Foods, seeking damages from a nationwide outbreak of listeriosis linked to the company's Toronto meat plant.

There are now 29 cases of listeriosis, including 15 deaths, linked to tainted meat from a Maple Leaf Foods meat-packing plant in Toronto, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Tuesday afternoon.

The Regina-based Merchant Law Group launched the class action in Ottawa on Monday. Lawyer Tony Merchant said he has a strong case. 

"I'm not just very confident. I'm all but positive that we will obtain appropriate compensation for people," Merchant said Tuesday.

The lawsuit involves people who have suffered illness, death, mental distress or financial losses as a result of the tainted meat and recall. The allegations have not been proven in court. Merchant said it would take about six months to determine if the class action would be certified by a judge.

If the certification is successful, the firm would then be the legal representative of anyone making a claim against Maple Leaf in connection with the outbreak of listeriosis, whether they sign on to the suit or not, said Merchant.

The case would then proceed to court or be settled in negotiations, and the compensation could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Merchant predicted. He said he anticipated many more people will join in the class action.

"I would never have guessed yesterday that we'd have 1,100 people contact us, and I think they'll find that there are bigger problems here than they'd expected," he said.

Merchant's firm has a track record with large class action lawsuits, having won six of the complex multimillion-dollar cases in recent years.

The firm made an estimated $40 million by representing about 10,000 former students of aboriginal residential schools in a class action lawsuit worth billions of dollars.

Company hit by recall

Maple Leaf Foods did not immediately return the CBC's request for an interview regarding the class action lawsuit.

But the sweeping recall of products that came from the company's Toronto plant continues, and that alone is expected to cost Maple Leaf Foods more than $20 million.

Meanwhile, Maple Leaf shares have lost a quarter of their value since the recall was announced last week.

Over the weekend, it was confirmed that meat tainted with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes processed at the company's Bartor Road plant in Toronto was the source of the outbreak of the food-borne illness.

On Monday, Maple Leaf upgraded a precautionary recall of 23 of its products issued last week to all 220 kinds of packaged meats from the plant.

Several other companies that use meat products from the Maple Leaf Foods plant have also voluntarily recalled some of their products:

  • Atlantic Prepared Foods Ltd. recalled its Irving, Sub Delicious and Needs brand sandwiches.
  • Metro Ontario Inc. pulled some of its Fresh 2 Go sandwiches from A & P and Dominion.
  • Lucerne Meats recalled some Mac's and Safeway sandwiches in Western Canada.
  • Royal Touch pulled its Shopsey's Reuben sandwiches.

Of the 15 deaths linked to the strain of listeria, most are in Ontario, but B.C., Saskatchewan and Quebec have also had one death each, the agency said.

The listeria strain was the underlying or contributing factor in six of the 15 fatalities while the deaths of the other nine patients, who had the bacterium in their system, are still under investigation to determine the exact cause, the federal Public Health Agency said.

Another 30 medical cases — in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — are being examined for possible ties to the outbreak.