'Tiger Brands must pay for victims' treatment'
Lawyer is preparing to sue the food giant, but is asking it to help with medical bills in the meanwhile
As class action lawyer Richard Spoor prepares to sue Tiger Brands for hundreds of millions of rands, he claims listeriosis survivors need medical treatment and can’t access it.
Spoor wants Tiger Brands to support victims’ medical costs.
Baby Theto survived listeriosis, unlike 76 other babies that the disease killed, but the four-month-old infant now has a shunt in her head to drain fluid.
According to Spoor, the child has spent much of her life in hospital fighting listeroisis-induced meningitis and sepsis. Her brain is now swollen.
Spoor said he was hoping Tiger Brands would step up and pay for medical expenses in the meantime.
Many of the listeriosis victims who have come forward and approached Spoor are poor.
He wrote on Facebook: “What is apparent is that many victims find themselves in a desperate situation with ongoing medical costs putting a strain on their fast diminishing resources.
“Last week we put out a feeler to Tiger’s attorneys to establish their willingness to provide some interim support to a sick child born to a mother who was infected by listeria monocytogenes after eating contaminated Enterprise processed meats.
“Recently Theto had a second VP shunt fitted to drain cerebrospinal fluid from her brain.”
Tiger Brands spokesman Nevashanee Naiker said the firm had received Spoor’s letter asking for assistance towards Baby Theto’s medical costs.The letter was sent from Spoor to Tiger Brands’ insurance firm. Their lawyers, Clyde and Co, had written back to Spoor and requested more information about the child, her medical condition and the required treatment.
Spoor’s colleague, Thami Malusi, said the firm has yet to receive a letter from Clyde and Co asking for more details in Baby Theto’s case.
The baby’s mother said she no longer wishes to speak to the media.
In another case Spoor has come across, a baby born with listeriosis is “chronically ill”.
Last week, the mother went back to an intensive care unit with the sick child, but Spoor says the parent’s medical aid is finished for the year.
Spoor tweeted: “Mother can’t afford the treatment, medical aid has reached the limit. She can’t pay anymore.”
But class action law suits can take years.
Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence MacDougall initially said there was no “direct link” between Tiger Brands’ cold meat products and people who died of listeriosis.
At least 183 people have died, half of them children.On Monday the company admitted its own tests found the ST6 strain of listeria in its factory and on the outside of polony. The ST is linked to 91% of cases in South Africa.
MacDougall has since expressed compassion, but maintained there was not yet proof that the strain of listeria in his the factory directly killed people.
“Although no link has, as yet, been confirmed between the presence of LST6 at our Polokwane plant and the loss of life, I deeply regret any loss of life and I want to offer my heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones. Any loss of life, no matter the circumstance, is tragic.”The firm said if a definitive link is established between its product and deaths, it would face the consequences.
“[We] want to assure the public that in the event that a tangible link is established between our products and listeriosis illnesses or fatalities, Tiger Brands will take steps to consider and address any valid claims which may be made against it in due course.”
Spoor describes the stories he hears from clients approaching him as heartbreaking. One such story is from a married couple in KwaZulu-Natal who spent a lot of money trying to conceive through in vitro fertilisation.
Eventually, the wife became pregnant with twins. She ate polony and it was later established her babies contracted listeriosis.
One twin died in her womb and the other was born severely premature.
It is not yet known if the child is blind from such an early birth, he said.The family wanted to grieve in peace but Tiger Brands’ attitude to the crisis has them contemplating joining the court case, said Spoor, who spoke to them at the weekend. The father of the premature twin said any compensation would be donated to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Spoor believed he had a case to claim for Constitutional damages, citing the Esidimeni arbitration.
In this landmark case, the families of Life Esidimeni victims were on Monday awarded R1-million in Constitutional damages after an arbitration hearing led by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.
Financial awards for loss of life due to negligence usually only pay towards medical costs in case of disability or in the case of death to compensate for future loss of earnings. This means the family of a poor person who died through state or business negligence will not be paid much in financial compensation.
Spoor said: “Our law of delict ( negligence ) needs an overhaul. It is an archaic, patriarchal system, in which only the breadwinner gets paid.”
Moseneke’s award for Constitutional damages has given Spoor hope as it provided compensation for the loss of lives of the destitute.Spoor is considering arguing that Tiger Brands breached Constitutional rights too.
“Food is supposed to make you strong and healthy and then it kills and cripples patients. This was a sustained, single-source epidemic. The strain was infecting patients from January 2017.
“Listeria kills one out of five people who contracts it. It goes for the immune-compromised, the elderly and babies. It is a serious disease.”
Malusi confirmed Spoor will file his class action papers on Monday.
The Sunday Times reported that Tiger Brands faced about R425-million in legal claims for more than 180 listeriosis deaths blamed on processed meat from its subsidiary‚ Enterprise Foods.
This was according to a statement released by Tiger Brands.
The cost of suspending operations and destroying suspect food would be between R337-million and R377-million‚ of which Tiger Brands hopes to recoup R94-million from insurers‚ the statement said.