What’s it worth to barf? Not much in Canada

Chapman and I have thrown around the idea that one of the reasons Canadians seem complacent about foodborne illness – despite several high-profile devastating outbreaks – is the availability of public health care. If someone loses a kidney because of E. coli O157:H7 or a liver because of hepatitis A, the cost is borne by the system. In the U.S. those without health care coverage would be out $100,000 – at a minimum. So Canadian lawsuits are kept to a minimum, media coverage remains stagnant, and everyone goes back to sleep.

As Jim Romahn wrote in Dec. after a $27 million settlement for victims in the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak that killed 20 and sickened hundreds was announced, CEO Michael H. McCain is a wily strategist.

For $27 million, tops, he has bought freedom from a court case that could have proven highly embarrassing to Maple Leaf. The ongoing coverage could well have become the final nail in consumer confidence in Maple Leaf products. The lawyers were sure to ask who knew what and when. They were sure to ask about the degree of plant contamination as the company continued to ship products, failing to first hold them for testing and clearance.

What does that $27 million buy?

• Someone who was ill for up to 48 hours would receive $750

• Up to a week receives $3,000

•Up to two weeks receives $5,500

• Up to a month receives $8,000

• If listeriosis led to a secondary infection that didn’t cause ongoing symptoms, such as meningitis or pneumonia, the settlement is $35,000

• If listeriosis caused sustained or permanent symptoms, the settlement is $75,000 plus $750 for each day of hospitalization

• If secondary complications affected the nervous system and caused “serious and permanent impairment of physical and/or mental function,” payment is $125,000 plus $750 for each day of hospitalization. A family member who was affected psychologically could receive $10,000.

• A death would lead to a $120,000 payment to the victim’s estate. A spouse would be eligible for an additional $35,000, while children could receive $30,000, parents could receive $20,000 and siblings or grandchildren could receive $5,000. Funeral expenses up to $13,500 would also be covered.

• Anyone who “sustained psychological injuries or trauma for up to 60 days” after eating tainted meat, without any injuries, could receive up to $4,000.

• Anyone who was at particular risk, such as pregnant women and the elderly, but did not become ill could receive up to $6,000 for psychological trauma that lasted up to 60 days.

• If psychological symptoms lasted more than 60 days, compensation is set at $13,500.

• Those in the vulnerable group who experienced psychological symptoms for more than 60 days could receive $17,500.