Class action lawsuit goes ahead for listeria victims

29 March 2018 - 09:07 By Katharine Child
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Lawyer Richard Spoor will lodge a class action lawsuit on Thursday against Tiger Brands and Enterprise Products on behalf of people who contracted listeriosis and the families of those who died.

Spoor‚ in conjunction with Bill Marler from Marler Clark attorneys in the US‚ will use 10 applicants as representatives for families who lost loved ones or people who survived listeriosis but may have been injured.

They will ask that Tiger Brands and its subsidiary Enterprise Products be found liable for death and injury caused by listeria-contaminated products. Secondly‚ they will seek compensation for families or survivors who come forward and join the class action. Their papers will be filed at the Johannesburg High Court on Thursday.

There are plans to advertise the class action so that more survivors or families of the dead come forward. This will include running adverts on radio‚ in newspapers and at stores where polony‚ viennas and other cold meats were sold. Tiger Brands will be asked to pay for the adverts.

The legal case relies on the fact that the specific ST6 strain of listeria monocytogenes‚ which infected 91% of people who died‚ was found at the Tiger Brands Enterprise factory in Polokwane. The firm represents almost 70 people in the class action so far.

Spoor will argue in an affidavit that the public had expected Tiger Brands to sell food that was safe to eat and that the company had breached public trust.

"These violations disproportionately affected more vulnerable members of our society — children‚ pregnant mothers‚ the elderly‚ and those with compromised immune systems. The violations are the result of egregious conduct by the respondents (Tiger Brands and Enterprise Products)‚" Spoor says in his affidavit.

"The respondents have made themselves a trusted presence in what should be the safest of spaces — our homes and schools. The respondents must have been aware of the deep trust they engendered and the public’s almost total inability to guard against this epidemic themselves."

He also argues that Tiger Brands and Enterprise Products did not act quickly enough when the listeriosis outbreak was announced in December.

"More than that‚ despite many warning signs the respondents — who account for a third of the market in these products — were not just slow to lead this business sector in dealing with the outbreak. They dragged their heels‚ even until after rational voices had called for action and Government had to intervene. Clearly‚ the respondents do not ascribe to a philosophy that the leader in good (profitable) times‚ should also be the leader in bad times."

There are four groups of people represented by Spoor and Marler Clark: those who lost loved ones they cared for‚ including babies; families who lost breadwinners to the disease; babies who contracted listeria in the womb but did not die; and people who contracted listeria from eating polony but did not die‚ but may have been injured.

The complaint is being filed on behalf 10 class representative applicants: Montlha Welhemina Ngobeni‚ Clinton Gregory Chinula‚ Tebogo Ntjana‚ Philip George Coetzee‚ Presendrie Govender‚ Annelize Le Roux‚ Xolile Bosch‚ a gynaecologist who cannot be named‚ Sebastian Laurent Stephen Schwagele-Fan Moritz and Shereze Curtis.

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