Lawsuit alleges Fort McMurray Walmart sold bad food after fire

Claim seeks special and punitive damages and health-care costs
2/10/2017

A proposed class-action multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been filed against Walmart Canada stemming from allegations the chain sold potentially contaminated food after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

Calgary-based law firm Higgerty Law says it filed the suit at Court of Queen's Bench in Edmonton on Feb. 3.

Alberta Health Services charged Walmart last month with 174 violations of the province's Public Health Act.

Some of the charges include failing to dispose of food items, including candy, potato chips, beans and condiments.

The health authority said food exposed to wildfires can be damaged by unsafe temperatures, smoke, ash, soot, fire retardants, water and loss of power.

None of the accusations has been proven in court.

"Our clients are concerned that their families' health may have been compromised," lawyer Patrick Higgerty said in a release.

"While the full scope of the health impact on the affected families is not yet known, we will be seeking damages to compensate everyone affected."

The claim is seeking $10 million in damages for anyone who was not refunded for food that had to be thrown out -- whether or not it was contaminated -- as well as anyone who got sick.

The suit also seeks special and punitive damages and health-care costs.

"The action relates to the negligent and irresponsible sale and provision of consumer goods to consumers from (Walmart's) Fort McMurray location ... which were unfit for human use or consumption following the Fort McMurray wildfires in May 2016, due to smoke and toxin contamination,'' the statement of claim reads.

Walmart Canada did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

But after the AHS charges were laid in January, the company's senior director of corporate affairs said the retailer followed strict policies designed to ensure food safety.

"We, at all material times, and during an unprecedented crisis, worked very closely with both food inspectors and the crisis management team of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to reopen the store as soon as reasonably possible in an effort to support and meet the critical needs of the community," Alex Roberton said in an email.

The wildfire sparked last May forced more than 80,000 to flee the northern Alberta city. Evacuees were not allowed to return until early June, although some people were allowed back around May 24 to get essential businesses such as grocery stores ready for the re-entry.

The representative plaintiff is William Young, a Sears warehouse technician who, according to the statement of claim, bought eggs, sausages, milk, energy drinks and water from the Fort McMurray Walmart between May 25 and May 29.

Young said in a news release the allegations are deeply alarming.

"Our health, our well-being and our safety was compromised by a retailer we trusted to provide us with the necessities we needed to rebuild our lives, and to keep our families, our children, and our neighbours fed and healthy in the aftermath of such a horrific disaster," he said.

"We'd like to see that this doesn't happen again, and we'd like to be compensated for the damages we have accumulated as a result of Walmart's negligence."

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