A 2008 Canadian outbreak of listeriosis with 22 deaths for a mortality rate of 38.5 percent out of the 57 infections may finally be over for Toronto’s Maple Leaf Foods.
Twelve years after the deadly listeriosis outbreak, Canada’s Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Mr. Sub franchisees against Maple Leaf Foods.
Mr. Sub franchisees had sued in an attempt to make Maple Leaf Foods responsible for financial losses from the outbreak. Cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto were the source of the Listeria contamination.
In a 5-4 decision reached on Friday, Canada’s high court found Maple Leaf does not owe the franchisees a “duty of care.” That is the legal responsibility held by a person or organization to avoid any acts that could reasonably be foreseen to cause harm to others.
The decision means the 424 Mr. Sub restaurants that claimed significant losses because of the outbreak are not going to be compensated for their losses.
The deadliest food-borne disease outbreak in Canadian history resulted in a six- to eight-week product shortage when Maple Leaf shut down operations.
Mr. Sub franchisees sued Maple Leaf, claiming lost sales and damage to their reputations. Mr. Sub franchisees sought to extend the “duty of care” beyond consumers being injured by a product involving economic harm.
Mr. Sub restaurants did not have a direct relationship with Maple Leaf. They were supplied with the manufacture’s meat product by a distributor.
Maple Leaf did look for a product for Mr. Sub during its own recall.
Maple Leaf told Canadian media that the company is happy with the court decision.
“The result is that tort law will not serve as an after-the-fact insurer to address all economic harms that parties might suffer in the marketplace,” wrote lawyers Elizabeth Bowker, Steve Stieber and Nicola Brankley from Stieber Berlach LLP.
The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has also “signaled that the primary interests protected by tort law are bodily integrity and property, and the courts will tread carefully in cases involving pure economic loss suffered by a party in a commercial environment,” Bowker said.
Maple Leaf appealed a 2016 Ontario Supreme Court of Justice ruling that said there was a “duty of care” in the case. Maple Leaf was successful before the Court of Appeals for Ontario. The appellate court said the duty of care involved keeping a product fit for human consumption. It said food manufactures would be reluctant to conduct recalls if they could be sued over repetitional issues.
Attorneys for Mr. Subs then took it to Canada’s highest court.
Common law in Canada has historically not allowed for recovery of negligence losses that are not consequences of physical injury or property damage. The SCC decision was consistent with that doctrine.
Two lines at Maple Leaf’s Bartor Road facility produced the deli meats that likely became contaminated during packaging. Maple Leaf recalled the product even before the outbreak was officially linked to the company. The recall was expanded and the plant was temporarily shut down for cleaning, putting about 250 out of work.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)