Maple Leaf pays $27M to settle listeriosis suit

"I'm disappointed and insulted by the amount they put on a human life,"… “I'm sure Mr. McCain has spent more than that on damage control with his ads on TV. I wish that he could have been there to watch the suffering and pain in Mother's face when she died or the anguish on the families' faces to watch this happen."

The Toronto Star
December 19, 2008

Maple Leaf pays $27M to settle listeriosis suit
Compensation ranges from $750 to $30,000 for tainted meat victims
Robert Cribb

FrancesClark.jpeg

Karen Clark and her brother, Tim, sit on their mother’s bed in Madoc, Ont. Frances Clark died Aug. 25 after testing positive for listeriosis. LARS HAGBERG FOR THE TORONTO STAR

When lawyers began filing class-action lawsuits against Maple Leaf Foods in August claiming thousands of people had suffered from eating listeria-tainted cold cuts, company president Michael McCain fired back.

In internal email memos to staff, McCain dismissed class-action lawyers and painted some of the self-professed victims as opportunists making the "faintest, thinnest of claims of so-called emotional stress or illness (tummy ache stuff)."

That tone changed yesterday when Maple Leaf settled the class-action lawsuit with victims of the listeria outbreak, committing to pay between $25 million and $27 million in compensation. Under the agreement, victims of listeria-induced stomach aches stand to receive potentially thousands of dollars from the company.

"Our goal throughout this legal process has been to negotiate a fair and early settlement so that we can obtain court approvals and promptly compensate families who were affected," McCain said in a statement issued yesterday.

"This was a tragic experience and I want to acknowledge the co-operation of all the parties involved to ensure that people affected receive timely restitution."

The settlement still requires court approval in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan. The Ontario approval hearing is to be heard early next year.

Ted Charney, a Toronto lawyer who represented some claimants, said the settlement came quickly thanks to co-operation on both sides.

"We had the benefit of a very experienced group of lawyers for both the plaintiffs and for Maple Leaf and a corporate defendant who was prepared to be reasonable and make settlement its priority instead of protracted litigation."

Members of the class-action suit will receive widely varying compensation depending on the severity of their injuries.

At the low end, listeria-triggered illnesses lasting a day or two will be eligible for a $750 payout. Those who suffered illnesses lasting two weeks to a month will be entitled to $8,000 plus any loss of income and $750 a day for hospitalization.

Payouts of $120,000 will go to the estates of those whose symptoms when they died were consistent with listeriosis, plus funeral expenses, $35,000 to their spouses, $30,000 for each of their children and $20,000 for their parents.

Tim Clark, whose mother, Frances, died Aug. 25 after testing positive for listeriosis, says the settlement is insulting to families who lost a loved one.

"I'm disappointed and insulted by the amount they put on a human life," he said from his home near Belleville, where he moved four years ago to look after his aging mother.

"I'm sure Mr. McCain has spent more than that on damage control with his ads on TV. I wish that he could have been there to watch the suffering and pain in Mother's face when she died or the anguish on the families' faces to watch this happen."

Dennis Schroh, whose 82-year-old mother, Elizabeth, died in August after testing positive for listeria, said he was pleased by the settlement, and that it will bring closure for him and his six siblings. Blood tests showed his mother, who lived in a nursing home in Macklin, Sask., contracted listeriosis in mid-July.

"We can get on with our lives," he said from his home in Swift Current. "I hope all nursing homes take care of the elderly and not serve deli meats. All the food should be cooked. Our health standards are not up to par. Maybe after this, our health standards will improve. That's what I want to see."

Health officials have officially attributed 20 deaths to the listeria outbreak. But a Toronto Star/CBC investigation recently raised questions about whether far more deaths were missed due to a failure to conduct blood tests.

Saskatchewan-based class-action lawyer Tony Merchant, whose firm represents about 3,500 of the 5,000 claimants, says there are 29 families claiming a loved one died as a result of the outbreak.

"The government says there are 20 dead. We think it's 29. And it may even be 30 or 31. So there's a significant undercounting of people who died from listeriosis," he said.

Maple Leaf spokesperson Linda Kuhn said the payout will be covered by the company's liability insurers.

The Maple Leaf meat recall, the largest in Canadian history, has raised serious questions about Canada's food safety system.

The Star/CBC investigation found government authorities were slow to warn Canadians about the risk as it began to emerge in August.

Unlike the early distant warnings that American health officials typically provide consumers, health officials here ordered detailed and lengthy tests to pinpoint the cause and the origins of the outbreak before going public.

That, say critics, allowed Canadians to unwittingly continue consuming potentially deadly meat for weeks.

Test results on Maple Leaf cold cuts collected from Toronto nursing homes and hospitals and obtained by the Star and the CBC showed levels of listeria that experts had not seen before.

Politicians and food safety officials at the federal and provincial levels initially dismissed any criticism, saying they acted as swiftly as scientific analysis would allow.

But there have also been recent acknowledgments of shortcomings in the handling of the crisis.

Dr. Brian Evans, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency vice-president and chief veterinary officer of Canada, recently told the Star that the federal food safety watchdog could have done a much better job of communicating with the public during the outbreak.

"I accept the criticism that there is a need for us to reflect and to do a much better job of informing (Canadians)," he said.

Comments
1. John Rioulx
Feb 5, 2009 3:32 PM

You can download the claim forms for $$ at www.mapleleafclaim.com!

2. PR North York
Dec 19, 2008 5:19 PM

CTV etc Trouble Shooting

The CEO has been saying sorry and putting safety always on the forefront. He and the quality control heads should have stepped down - this is not safety first. Deep cleaning, as in the thousands of dollars television advertisements should always have happened and did not. The thousands paid out to the television stations should be kept to lower their salty/ msg. processed foods to win back (if ever) purchasers.

3. starcomment
Dec 19, 2008 4:11 PM

One cheap settlement. (2)

After all these poor victims sign the papers, and their lawyers grab their lion’s share, a huge chunk of what’s left of the $27M will be used for “future research and development” in food safety for Maple Leaf Foods. McCain practically gets out of this for free! No wonder some comments here are idolizing him as a “scholar”. He sure learns well enough to know how to evade himself. Lamenting the victims of his company, McCain is certainly no “gentleman”, as praised by one comment yesterday. A gentleman doesn’t take advantage of his victims. For those of you who continue to express your compliments to the perpetrator and choose to ignore his victims, have some sense of value on yourself. These victims are Canadian lives. Nothing has ever been changed and will never be. McCain still doesn’t dare to taste his own products.

4. starcomment
Dec 19, 2008 4:11 PM

One cheap settlement. (1)

$27M out of the hundreds of millions they have made in the past century, not to mention the number of unknown past victims that are unaccounted for; this is a dirt cheap settlement. The lawyers for these victims are aware that if their case were to drag on without a quick settlement, it would be difficult to collect fees from their clients, especially in view of the recent dramatic economic downturn. Maple Leaf Foods is taking advantage of this situation. McCain simply says “Take it or disappear”. He is taking care of the well being of his corporation on top of its victims. What can they do? These victims have no money and they want to face a giant corporation feeding hundreds of much needed jobs and paying taxes to their government. That’s life and that’s realty.

5. Maxbear
Dec 19, 2008 12:15 PM

Impressed.

From the beginning of this sad episode McCain and Maple Leaf have been upfront and acknowledged their responsibilty. The settlement came quickly and although some may think it is not enough for the death of a loved one it could have dragged on for years. Directly opposite to how many CEO's would have handled the situation.

6. starcomment
Dec 19, 2008 11:20 AM

Move over please ! Now!!

This article was pull out from the front page around 11:15 a.m. and replaced with "Desperate, injured solo sailor receives aid from competitor". Thank you for adding salt to the listerisois victims' wounds, Toronto Star. These victims deserve more attentions and not insults. Don't help to sweep our food safty problems under the carpets.

7. atticus finch
Dec 19, 2008 11:03 AM

Mr. McCain is absolutely right.

This matter was settled in an expiditious manner thanks to Mr. McCain and not the lawyers. I mean seriously Mr. McCain is worth, what, billions? How much pull do you think he would have with any insurance company? I am willing to bet that the not needed lawyers in this matter made millions at the expense of those who suffered. Memo to the Toronto Star: Can you please find out what the lawyers made here? I am also willing to bet that Mr. McCain, being the Honourable person that he is, would have settled with these victims if they would have went to him, without lawyers, directly and they may have been paid more as no lawyer fees would have been paid out. What is it that the lawyers did in this matter? I mean seriously! Tell me. I would say some, from the internal email, may have falsified claims which would have taken time and money away from the real victims. Here you have Mr. McCain, a CEO, on TV providing an apology to the victims. A true man of Honour!

8. amazing1
Dec 19, 2008 9:19 AM

Too many people taking advantage

There is no way to prove that Listeria was the lone culprit responsible of killing these individuals. The majority of those that were severely ill were elderly, and had other complications. It seems that the families of these individuals were taking advantage of a company that handled the crisis really well. The conservative government should be at fault for allowing these conglomerates to supervise themselves rather than allow public health inspectors/food scientists to regulate maple leaf foods. Listeria is ubiquitous and is known to be carried in deli meats, that's why pregnant women are advised not to eat it, maybe they should advise the elderly now not to eat deli meats, because combined with other complications(malfunctioning kidney, liver etc.,) it could potentially lead to hospitilization or death.

9. petse
Dec 19, 2008 8:28 AM

How much does it cost

Priceless 20 dead thousands seriously ill, some with life long lasting ailments cost $27,000,000 CHEAP PRICE I WOULD SAY Lawyers $$$$$$$$$$$$$ 100 mil?

10. Easterner
Dec 19, 2008 7:12 AM

I have to say Maple Leaf Foods and Michael McCain have handled this crisis very well and very professionally. They took responsibility and culpability, apologized and didn't fuss over the compensation.

http://www.thestar.com/article/556248


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