In an article in Ontario Farmer, Jim Romahn wrote about my recent talk at University of Guelph about foodborne illness litigation:
U.S. lawyer Bill Marler of Seattle, Wash. Was cited as telling an audience at the University of Guelph recently that medicare has spared Canadian food companies from multi-million-dollar lawsuits when their products poison consumers.
Marler was further cited as saying that Canadian lawyers might file class-action lawsuits, but there won’t be much money for the victims.
There have, however, been Canadian food poisonings every bit as spectacular as the U.S. cases. The largest in Canadian history involved lunchmate products from Schneider Corp.; there is an ongoing lawsuit between Schneiders and cheese supplier Parmalat.
Marler talked about the lack of legal action in Canada in response to a question about the recent food poisonings of dozens of people who ate at a cafeteria at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.
Marler made it clear that he’s keenly interested in prodding the food industry to improve because his heart has been broken by the victims he has represented.
Marler was further cited as saying that the publicity surrounding the cases he has brought to trial has probably done more to improve food safety than the multi-million-dollar penalties companies face, adding, “They have insurance.”
Marler told of a country club meeting with the president of Chi Chi’s to negotiate an out-of-court settlement involving scallion-based food poisoning of hundreds of the restaurant chain’s customers. The man’s “face turned white” when a club member stopped their table to offer a greeting, was introduced to Marler and asked whether they were meeting “over all those people who got sick and died.”
Marler said in many food-company cases, inspection reports confirm that there have been shortcomings, sometimes for years, that have been ignored.
Marler said the 2002 jury award of $25 million to consumers poisoned by E. coli O157:H7 in ConAgra product “was a turning point.”
He said the incidence of E. coli 0157:H7 has declined significantly in meats since the high-profile lawsuits, but there is a rising tide of cases involving sprouts and fresh fruits and vegetables.
There is also an increase in cases involving salmonella.