|Plaintiff Matthew Harrison and his lawyer Richard Mallett (right) speak to the media during a press conference after filing a class action lawsuit against XL Foods Inc. following an outbreak of E. coli at the company's Brooks, Alta. facility, Tuesday October 2, 2012. (DAVID BLOOM / QMI AGENCY)
EDMONTON - A class action lawsuit filed by an Edmonton man who says he got sick from tainted beef has attracted dozens more potential claimants.
According to a statement of claim filed in Court of Queen’s Bench on Tuesday, but released Wednesday, Matthew Harrison alleges he contracted the E. coli infection after buying and consuming steak which had been processed, packaged and stored by XL Foods Inc.
“I bought the steaks at Costco on 50 Street. At my friend’s place we had a barbecue. I got intense stomach cramps and I had blood in my stool. I went to the hospital and I was in there for about three or four days,” said Harrison in a press conference held Wednesday.
Harrison claims he was hospitalized for testing and treatment after eating some of the beef on Sept. 5 and becoming extremely ill with symptoms including severe abdominal cramping, vomiting, headache, fever and diarrhea.
Harrison also claims he suffered mental distress, emotional trauma and fear for his health as a result of his illness and a recall of XL Foods beef products.
Two others - his friend’s son and his friend’s mother - also got sick and are included in the class action suit.
According to Harrison’s lawyer, Richard Mallett, the suit has not yet been certified by a judge but since filing it his office has been contacted by dozens of callers from B.C., Ontario and Alberta who say they may have been affected by meat from the same recall.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) first recalled some beef products produced by XL Foods on Sept. 16.
The recall was extended to more products in the weeks after the initial recall and, on Sept. 28, CFIA temporarily shut down the Brooks plant.
On Thursday, the recall was expanded yet again, now bringing the total number of recalled beef products to more than 1,500.
Newly recalled meat includes a variety of beef sold at Safeway, Walmart, Loblaw and other stores.
“The trace out from XL to secondary and tertiary distributors, manufacturers and retailers could result in a large number of affected products over a wide range of codes and dates,” the CFIA said in a release Thursday morning.
The lawsuit alleges XL Foods was negligent for failing to ensure its beef products were safe for consumption, failing to thoroughly test its beef products, failing to follow quality control processes and failing to recall all of its tainted beef immediately after learning people were becoming ill.
The lawsuit also alleges that, despite knowing of the poor quality control at their Brooks plant, XL Foods concealed this information from consumers, the general public and regulatory authorities in order to maintain revenue, increase or maintain profit and avoid negative publicity.
Harrison has not yet said how much money he is asking in compensation and Mallett said the number will depend on the scope of the lawsuit and the number of people ultimately involved.
“Somebody needs to be held accountable for this. The meat should have never left the plant. Obviously the checks and balances aren’t in order. If the Americans found it at their border, how come we didn’t find it before it left the plant?” said Harrison, who claims to continue to experience side effects, being able to work for no more than four or five hours at a time before getting tired.
The lawsuit states it wants declarations from XL Foods that the recalled products were contaminated and XLFoods is liable for the damages caused by the recalled products. It is also seeking punitive damages.
Mallett’s office also worked with some of the claimants on the 2008 Maple Leaf Foods lawsuit that sought damages for people impacted by Listeria contaminated meat.
“We don’t know if it’s going to be as broadly based as the Maple Leaf Foods matter was,” said Mallett. “That litigation was finished quite significantly within a matter of months. So our hope is that XLFoods will step forward once the dust settles a little bit and come forward to all Canadians and say, ‘Look, we’re sorry for what happened. We’d like to deal with this. Let’s deal with people with physical illnesses and let’s deal with the refunds that are needed so that all Canadians can move forward and XL can move forward as well.’”
An attempt to contact XL Foods was unsuccessful but a message on their media phone line says the company is “committed to producing high-quality beef products and the safety of our consumers is our No. 1 priority.”
They also say any products that fall under the recall can be brought back to the point of sale for a full refund.
Statements of claim contain unproven allegations.