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Maple Leaf’s listeria claim process underway

With approvals in place for the $27 million settlement of what Maple Leaf Foods calls the largest human food contamination class action in Canada’s history, Canadians now have until Nov. 2 to file claims for a piece of the settlement fund.

Courts in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec have approved the company’s financial compensation package for those who bought or ate recalled meat products made by Maple Leaf between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2008.

The settlement process stems from an outbreak of listeriosis that began last August involving a specific listeria monocytogenes strain that sickened 57 people in seven provinces from B.C. to New Brunswick, including 41 people in Ontario.

The strain was tracked to prepared deli meats from Maple Leaf Foods’ Bartor Road meat plant No. 97B in Toronto.

Among those 57 cases, as of April 17 this year, the listeria strain in question was ruled to be the “underlying or contributing cause” in the deaths of 22 people, including 16 in Ontario alone.

Maple Leaf responded last summer by launching a major and well-publicized product recall that crossed over into other food brands using product from the facility. The Toronto plant was shut down Aug. 20 and has since been cleaned and resumed production.

“People who believe they were affected by listeriosis as a result of recalled meat products produced by Maple Leaf Foods have the next 181 days to file a claim for financial compensation,” the company said in a release Tuesday.

The only option that allows claimants to ever be part of any other lawsuit against Maple Leaf regarding the legal claims in the listeria case, is by opting out of the company’s Canada-wide settlement, which means submitting a signed “Opt Out” form postmarked no later than Aug. 7.

Under the settlement approved by the courts, if a claimant chooses to do nothing by the claims deadline of Nov. 2, he or she gets no compensation and gives up all rights to further legal action in the matter, the company said.

Anyone who believes he or she qualifies for compensation can download a claim form from the Maple Leaf claims administrator’s website or call 1-800-801-2521.

The company’s $27 million fund is meant to cover “valid claims” for compensation relating to any physical or psychological harm caused by the consumption of recalled Maple Leaf products. The settlement provides “varying amounts” of compensation to individuals who consumed recalled products and were sickened or to the families of those who died.

Generally, claimants don’t need medical proof to file a claim of physical symptoms, the company said. Claims without medical proof for illness lasting at least 24 and less than 48 hours may receive as much as $750 from the fund.

Medical proof will be needed, however, if one files a claim of illness lasting more than 48 hours. Claims of such illness may be worth $3,000 to as much as $125,000, plus “certain additional amounts,” the company said.

Those who make claims of psychological trauma from consuming recalled products will also need medical proof of trauma onset after Aug. 17, 2008. A successful psychological trauma claim to the fund may be worth $2,000 to $17,500 plus “certain additional amounts,” the company projected.

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