Hearing held as part of class-action lawsuit filed against Cargill meat-packing plant

A hearing in the class action lawsuit against the Cargill meatpacking plant near High River, Alta, was held Thursday in Calgary, with the judge reserving a decision on how to proceed with the case.

The lawsuit, originally filed in mid-2020 by Calgary-based Guardian Law Group and James H. Brown and Associates, alleges that Cargill should have known that a lack of preventive measures could affect employees’ close contacts.

The COVID-19 outbreak at the facility was at times the largest in North America.

Mathew Farrell, an attorney with Guardian Law Group representing the plaintiff, told CBC News ahead of the hearing that the workers’ families “deserve to hold that company accountable for the specific wrongdoing that that specific company committed.” be able”.

“Part of that was making sure companies knew from the start that they had a responsibility. There are things you can do to protect your workers and you must do them or the courts will hold you accountable,” Farrell said.

Mathew Farrell, an attorney with the Guardian Law Group, says the firm argues that Cargill’s responsibility rests with those whom it “reasonably foresaw would be hurt.” (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Cargill’s defense said it was inappropriate to hold the company accountable for the “legally undetermined” spread of the infection by workers.

A Cargill spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The allegations could not be proven in court.

The class action lawsuit affects those individuals who had close contact with employees. The employees themselves are subject to labor and employee compensation laws.

The deaths of three people have been linked to the factory’s COVID outbreaks. Two were employees. The third was a laborer’s father, Armando Sallegue, who had traveled to Alberta to visit his son.

The outbreak is the subject of a police investigation, although no charges have been filed.

Criminology professor not surprised by lawsuit

Steven Bittle, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said he was not surprised by the lawsuit’s existence, given the company’s “unable or unwillingness to address the safety concerns surrounding the COVID pandemic.”

History shows that such class action lawsuits are hard to win, Bittle said, especially when they involve large companies with deep pockets that can challenge issues in court.

“This is one of the tools that people in the United States have tried more often, this class action avenue, to try and get some justice and redress for the situation,” he said. “That is most unusual.”

The plaintiff’s case involves an allegation that the company was aware of the risks and that the company did not adequately prepare to address those risks, Bittle said.

Cargill erected tents to conduct screening amid a major outbreak at its facility near High River, Alta in 2020. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

He said the company has since argued that even if it had a legal duty to protect workers, it could not be held responsible for this secondary victimization.

“I think the employer in this case will try to argue that they are not responsible for the pandemic,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bittle said the lawsuit speaks to the level of frustration people have linked to what happened at the facility.

“In this case we could call it death, the secondary victimization that happened when someone came home with the virus and passed it on to someone else,” he said. “Without accountability, there’s a real sense of injustice here.”

Farrell, the Guardian Law Group’s attorney, said he is currently unsure whether the judge leading the case will make a written or oral decision.

The plaintiff wants the issue of admission of the class action to be heard first. Cargill wants priority to be given to its action to dismiss plaintiff’s action for lack of cause of action. The judge has reserved a decision.

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