Suit against XL over beef recall now a class action

An Edmonton law firm’s multi-million-dollar suit against XL Foods over last year’s massive beef recall and E. coli outbreak has now been certified as a national-level class action.

The suit, filed in February with Edmonton resident Matthew Harrison as its representative plaintiff, was certified as a class action last week in Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.

The suit — spearheaded by James H. Brown and Associates, a firm specializing in class actions and personal-injury claims — will be the only class action proceeding against XL, lawyer Rick Mallett said in an email.

Claims were filed in other provinces against XL, but Harrison’s has now been certified as the national class action, Mallett said. The Harrison suit initially only named XL Foods and its owner, Edmonton-based Nilsson Bros., as defendants, but has since also named the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as a third-party defendant.

Among other claims, the suit seeks:

  • $10 million in damages for people who ate and were sickened by beef covered by an XL recall, and for people who bought XL beef, either to eat or resell, but didn’t get full refunds;
  • $5 million in punitive damages;
  • $1 million in “special damages;” and
  • $1 million in related “past and future” health care costs.

Harrison, the claim states, had bought and eaten steaks that were processed at XL’s Brooks, Alta. beef packing plant and were among the products included in a recall. (XL in January this year sold the Brooks plant to the North American arm of Brazilian meat-packing giant JBS.)

The plaintiff became “extremely ill” with E. coli and was hospitalized with symptoms including “severe abdominal cramping, vomiting, headache, fever and diarrhea, according to Mallett’s statement of claim.

“Responsibility”

The recall, now considered the largest beef recall in Canadian history, began Sept. 4 last year when some product at another processor, Ginger Beef Choice in Calgary, was found to have E. coli O157:H7 that was soon tracked back to the XL plant. The same day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also reported O157:H7 in trimmings exported from Brooks.

Since none of the beef from the two tested batches was found to be on Canadian store shelves, CFIA and XL chose not to mount a public recall at that time. By mid-October, however, the processing dates associated with 0157:H7-contaminated beef had expanded dramatically.

Ultimately, following numerous recalls and health hazard alerts, about 4,000 tonnes of beef and beef products — representing at least 12,000 beef cattle — would be pulled from sale in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere. Eighteen consumers in Canada were confirmed to have been sickened by the strain of E. coli from the Brooks plant.

Mallett’s statement of claim alleges XL breached its obligations to alert CFIA about E. coli contamination at the outset, “mismanaged” the resulting product recall and “failed to co-operate with the CFIA in providing timely information.”

The suit also cites a recorded statement from XL on or about Sept. 19 to the effect that the company “prides itself on providing safe and high quality beef products and has a highly dedicated and skilled workforce committed to achieving this goal.”

The suit alleges XL breached consumer protection legislation by making “false, misleading and deceptive representations” that were “not based on adequate and proper independent testing that were done before the representation was made.”

XL, the suit further claims, “did not accept responsibility for the contamination until Oct. 4, 2012, approximately one month after the investigation began.”

The case’s next court date hasn’t yet been set, Mallett said in his email. Queen’s Bench Justice John Rooke hasn’t yet released his written reasons for certifying the suit as a class action. — AGCanada.com Network

Related stories:
Lakeside beef plant in reputation-rebuilding mode, June 14, 2013
XL beef recall revealed ‘weak safety culture,’ June 6, 2013

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