While still denying culpability in the deaths of at least 183 people and 479 counts of illness as a result of the listeriosis outbreak, Tiger Brands is now the subject of several lawsuits and criminal charges.
Forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan and Forensics for Justice plan to open a criminal docket against Tiger Brands, with the hope of charging the company with attempted murder and culpable homicide.
Over and above O’Sullivan, attorney Richard Spoor and the Economic Freedom Fighters have independently confirmed that they plan to file lawsuits against Tiger Brands whose Enterprise Food facility in Polokwane has been identified the source of the epidemic.
If the lawsuits are successful, they could potentially result in hundreds of millions of rands awarded to victims and the families of those killed.
O’Sullivan said he will work closely with National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) to work out the exact number of listeriosis-linked deaths, which the investigator believes will rise to 500.
Even though Tiger Brands may face litigation, its chief executive Lawrence MacDougall has said that the company’s primary concern continues to be food safety and, in response to the health department’s announcement and the findings by the NCID, it has began a voluntary recall of all its processed-meat products.
Spoor, who is putting the class action together on behalf of victims, has blamed the outbreak of LST6, the specific strain of listeriosis, on health officials. Nearly all of the victims who were tested showed strains linked to the Polokwane factory.
“That looks to us to be an overwhelmingly strong case, it’s like a fingerprint, or the marks on a bullet fired from a gun,” said Spoor.
The government has promised to support communities intending to take court action, saying that it will provide information and expertise.
“Laws are available to take people to account and they are going to be punished in terms of the available legislation,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told the National Assembly last week.
Spoor, who spearheaded and won a suit against gold producers over the fatal lung disease silicosis, will join forces with US lawyer Bill Marler who won $110-million in compensation for victims of an ecoli outbreak in the United States which originated from fast-food chain Jack in the Box.
Countries around the continent have already placed a ban on Tiger Brand imports and over the weekend, processed meats from South Africa were set alight in several locations in Malawi.