Judge certifies class-action suit against XL Foods

By Ryan Cormier, Edmonton Journal October 9, 2013

An Alberta judge has certified to go forward a $10-million nationwide class-action lawsuit against the Alberta meat packer at the centre of a massive beef recall after a 2012 E. coli outbreak.

Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice John Rooke certified the class action in a hearing that concluded Tuesday. The decision means those who are suing the company can do so as a group instead of bringing individual cases to court.

Class counsel Rick Mallett said the action has more than 200 plaintiffs from across Canada and expects that number to rise.

“As more Canadians become aware that the class action is certified, more will come forward,” Mallett said outside court. “It’s difficult for an individual to go up against a corporate entity.”

Soon, public notifications and calls for more plaintiffs will appear in media across Canada.

The class action will include those who believe XL Foods owes them a refund for tainted meat and those who were made ill and seek financial compensation. Individual financial claims haven’t yet been determined.

“We’re still working on determining the appropriate levels of compensation,” Mallett said.

Mallett doesn’t expect the suit to reach the final stage in court until 2015.

The class-action suit will proceed with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a third-party defendant that could be held responsible for part of any financial settlement potentially ordered by the courts.

While XL Foods denies any responsibility for the outbreak that sickened at least 18 people, the company has argued any possible liability should at least be shared with the CFIA.

XL Foods claims its operational standards met CFIA guidelines, and argued that if the meat packer is found liable, then “such standards were inadequate.” Any XL products that may have posed harm to the public were negligently inspected by the CFIA and distributed with its approval, according to the company.

Even if XL Foods is found to have financial responsibility, Mallett said, that doesn’t necessarily mean the CFIA will as well.

The CFIA did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

The class-action suit states that questionable meat was processed at the XL Foods facility in Brooks in late August and early September 2012.

The packing plant was closed for weeks after the outbreak and the resulting loss of 35 per cent of Canada’s beef processing capacity cost ranchers an estimated $16 million to $27 million.

In July, an independent panel concluded that the “relaxed attitude” of CFIA inspectors and XL Foods officials led to the outbreak.

The report found it was likely clogged nozzles on a carcass pasteurizer that contaminated meat, but that XL and the CFIA failed to spot the rise in positive E. coli tests before an estimated 4,000 tonnes of possibly tainted meat was shipped across the continent.

The Nilsson Brothers Group bought the Brooks plant in March 2009 from Tyson Foods Inc. The plant was sold to JBS Canada earlier this year.

On Tuesday, Nilsson Brothers, named in the suit alongside XL Foods, did not return a call for comment.

Statements of claim and defence contain allegations not proven in court.

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