Payouts still on hold from Maple Leaf listeria suits

Maple Leaf Foods calls itself "dismayed and frustrated" to find $25 million it paid to settle claims from a notorious 2008 listeriosis outbreak has yet to be distributed.

The Toronto food processing giant’s CEO Michael McCain said as much in the wake of media reports last week profiling people who were sickened by listeria related to the 2008 scare, but who have yet to see any settlement.

"We are dismayed and frustrated at how long this process has taken, given we paid $25 million to settle these claims almost three years ago," McCain said in a statement Wednesday.

The outbreak involved a specific listeria monocytogenes strain that sickened 57 people in seven provinces from B.C. to New Brunswick, including 41 people in Ontario.

The strain was tracked back to prepared deli meats from Maple Leaf’s Bartor Road meat plant No. 97B in Toronto.

Among those 57 cases, the listeria strain in question was ruled to be the "underlying or contributing cause" in the deaths of 22 people, including 16 in Ontario alone.

"While Maple Leaf had no control over the (settlement) process, we did everything we could to help get money to victims, including me personally contacting premiers to urge their provincial health authorities to reach a settlement," McCain said.

Still, he said, it’s the company’s understanding that "all the hurdles have now been overcome and court hearings are being scheduled to approve distribution of the settlements to claimants early in the new year."

McCain and Maple Leaf have long drawn praise in the business press for their handling of the outbreak. However, some claimants in the past year have gone public with their concerns over the delays.

Toronto Star reporter Petti Fong last week featured Walter Muller, a Vancouver resident who suffered diarrhea and stomach ailments after eating the deli meat in 2008 and is owed $750.

"I think they’re waiting for people like me to die before they pay out," he told the Star, almost a year after he first went public.

Estates of people who died from complications related to listeriosis are entitled to $120,000, Fong wrote.

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