The Supreme Court will be hearing a case involving Listeria monocytogenes food poisoning from Maple Leaf’s Lunchables that resulted in about 20 deaths and dozens of illnesses in 2008.
The 424 franchise holders for Mr. Sub restaurants filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming losses because the public lost confidence in their subs that contain Maple Leaf products.
One lower court held Maple Leaf liable, an appeal court ruled the other way and now it’s going to be up to the Supreme Court to decide a case that lawyers say could make all suppliers liable for financial losses their clients suffer.
Maple Leaf has apologized to those who were sickened by its products, its insurance company settled a class-action lawsuit and the company added a food-safety guru to its management team.
“The question that keeps popping up in case after case after case is, what if you’re negligent but you don’t cause physical harm to someone, you just cost them money?” said Andrew Bernstein, a litigation partner at Torys LLP, calling it an issue that “continues to bedevil the courts.”
The “broader implications of the case are very significant,” he is quoted in a Globe and Mail newspaper article. He said this raises the “spectre of indeterminate liability.”
“I think the concern you would have is that anybody who supplies anything that’s used in another business could face potential liability,” he is quoted.
Franchise owners were required to purchase and sell meats approved by Mr. Sub, which included two Maple Leaf products – roast beef and corned beef – that were affected by the recall.
Mr. Sub became publicly associated with Maple Leaf during the crisis when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency named the chain in a health warning and it was referenced in media reports.
Consumers asked retailers if their meat products were affected and competitors posted signs proclaiming they did not serve Maple Leaf meats. Other restaurants, including McDonald’s, were also linked to Maple Leaf at the time.