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Terms defined for Maple Leaf’s listeria settlement

Maple Leaf Foods and the lawyers handling several listeria-related lawsuits against the company have agreed on terms of a Canada-wide settlement deal to take to courts in three provinces for approval.

The settlement, first announced Dec. 18, covers “numerous” proposed class action suits over last summer’s listeriosis outbreak, which was linked to deli meats coming out of a Maple Leaf processing plant in Toronto.

The outbreak last August involved a specific strain of listeria in prepared meats that sickened 56 people in seven provinces, mostly in Ontario. Among those 56 cases, as of Dec. 10, the listeria strain in question has been ruled to be the “underlying or contributing cause” in the deaths of 20 people.

The Toronto-based food manufacturing giant launched a major and well-publicized product recall that crossed over into other food brands using product from the facility. The Toronto plant tied to the outbreak was shut down Aug. 20 and is now only in limited production.

The proposal stems from suits that claim Maple Leaf “distributed, supplied, manufactured or sold the recalled products that may have contained the bacteria <>i>listeria monocytogenes,” the company said.

The proposed $25 million settlement affects people who consumed or bought certain specific recalled food products between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2008. It’s meant to compensate those, and the families of those, who consumed recalled products, if consuming said products caused any physical or psychological harm, the company said in a release Monday.

Those who consumed the recalled products may be eligible to take part in the proposed settlement and get compensation, the company said.

Others in the suits’ proposed “classes” who bought but didn’t eat the products wouldn’t get compensation, unless they’re eligible for compensation as family members. Those others, however, “will be bound by the terms of the settlement, including a release of all claims” against Maple Leaf, the company said.

But people and companies that bought the recalled products for resale purposes are not part of the settlement class and will not be bound by the settlement, Maple Leaf said.

The amount each claimant gets would depend upon the severity of his or her illness, as well as eligible lost income and certain out-of-pocket expenses, the company said.

Physical symptoms

For claimants who “sustained physical symptoms consistent with
listeriosis,” Maple Leaf said, the compensation would range from $750 (for physical symptoms lasting 24-48 hours) up to $125,000 (for serious and long-lasting physical injuries).

The estates of class members who died as a result of symptoms consistent with listeriosis would be paid $120,000, plus additional substantial amounts to immediate family members, the company said.
Administration costs, the class-action lawyers’ fees and disbursements would be paid out of the settlement fund.

Maple Leaf also agreed to pay another $2 million into the settlement fund if $25 million isn’t enough to settle all eligible claims.

The settlement “must be approved by the courts in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, each of which must be satisfied that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of class members,” the company said.

The settlement goes to Ontario Superior Court in Toronto on March 5; Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench in Regina on March 10; and the Superior Court of Quebec in Montreal on March 20.

Claimants are asked to submit their claims as soon as possible, Maple Leaf said, but claims will only be processed and paid after the settlement gets the necessary court approvals. Claim forms must be received by 5 p.m. EST on July 31.

Claimants who want to appear at any of the court hearings or object to the proposed settlement will need to put their objections in writing by March 2 at the latest.

A deadline for those who wish to opt out, allowing them to theoretically sue Maple Leaf on their own, will be set out if the three main class actions are certified and the settlement is approved.

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