© AgMedia Inc.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
It will take months, if not years, for a BSE class action lawsuit to reach trial says the lawyer representing the lead plaintiff.
Toronto-based lawyer Cameron Pallett says he’s confident the federal government won’t pursue its request to appeal class action certification of the lawsuit to a higher court after an Ontario Divisional Court judge rejected the appeal Jan. 22.
“They (Justice Canada lawyers) said they would abide by her (the judge’s) decision,” he says.
While the court’s decision should clear the way for a trial to take place, there are still several legal hoops to jump before a date can be set, says Pallett. These include the filing of statements of defense, affidavits, exchanging documents and discovery.
The lawsuit seeks compensation from the federal government for Canadian beef producers whose operations were affected by the BSE crisis, sparked by the discovery of the disease in an Alberta cow in May 2003.
Bill Sauer, a producer in the Niagara region who attributes the failure of his dairy heifer replacement business to the crisis, is the lawsuit’s main plaintiff. He’s representing thousands of producers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Maritimes.
Sauer says the lawsuit seeks punitive and actual damages of about $6 billion but his own portion of that amount is considerably smaller - $60,000.
Pallett says the suit is “looking for a process” rather than a dollar figure. He explains that the goal is to persuade the federal government to establish a “fair, reasonable and cost effective” damages assessment protocol to determine what individual producers lost during the crisis.
He says initially four claims were filed in 2005 representing producers in different geographic regions. These have since been combined into two: one in Ontario and one in Quebec.
The Ontario action names as defendants Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, unnamed officials with AAFC and Ridley Inc., a feed manufacturer. Ridley has since settled an agreement with the lawsuit’s plaintiffs with a $6 million payment to a class action trust fund to help with legal costs. In exchange, the company’s liability in the case has been capped at $6 million.
Pallett alleges that the federal government was negligent in introducing BSE preventative measures. All statements have yet to be proven in court.
Pallett says he hopes the issue can get resolved as soon as possible. He notes producers experienced the fallout from the crisis most acutely about two years ago when they “exhausted their reserves” of assets, disposable income and credit lines. “The cattle producers need help and they need it now,” he says. BF