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Legal explainer: Hepatitis A frozen berries scare

in Compensation Law by Julie Clayton on

By now many of us would have heard or seen the news about contaminated frozen berry products imported into Australia, with a number of people across the country having contracted the Hepatitis A virus after consuming the berries.

We’ve been contacted by a number of people who are obviously concerned about their health and legal rights. There is a lot of information available to people about the symptoms of Hepatitis A and what they can do if they suspect they’ve contracted the virus.

The nature of this contamination scare may also give rise to claims for compensation, and there are a number of legal issues to consider. 

Legal claims

  • Manufacturers of goods have a number of stringent obligations towards consumers, including a requirement that any goods they produce must be free from safety defects.
  • Food products contaminated with a virus like Hepatitis A would obviously fail to meet the safety standards that people are entitled to except for a product of that nature.
  • The Australian Consumer Law gives rights to individuals who were injured as a result of a safety defect in goods to claim compensation against the relevant manufacturer.
  • Australian distributers of imported goods can be held responsible for products’ safety to the same extent that they would if they had grown or manufactured them themselves.
  • Given the number of people who may have been exposed to the virus, and who are suffering similar complications as a result, the prospect of a class action against the manufacturer is being actively pursued.
  • Anyone who is diagnosed with Hepatitis A after consuming the recalled frozen berries should seek legal advice about their circumstances.
  • If the current Hepatitis A scare is definitively linked to the manufacturer, Patties Foods Ltd, then we would hope it will do the right thing and compensate those affected without forcing them to take legal action.

What you can do

  • If you’re concerned that you may have contracted the virus or that you might be experiencing symptoms related to it after having consumed the affected berries, the most important first step is to speak to your doctor.
  • One of the difficulties that can often emerge in claims concerning food contamination is in proving that people acquired and consumed the affected food, as many people tend not to keep shopping receipts or unused foods for long periods of time.
  • Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Rosemary Lester, has advised consumers to immediately dispose of any packs of recalled berries. We would encourage anyone diagnosed with Hepatitis A who is still in possession of a partially-used pack of recalled berries to contact Slater and Gordon to discuss how best to follow this directive while ensuring that relevant evidence is preserved
  • For anyone who thinks they might be affected by the recalled frozen berries, we would recommend that they hold on to any receipts or other proof of their purchase or use of the berries.
  • Anyone who has thrown out their receipts might want to take some time to write down whatever they can recall about when and where they purchased and consumed the berries, to ensure this information isn’t forgotten

Health impacts

  • The symptoms and consequences of contracting hepatitis A can be very unpleasant, and can take some time to fully subside.
  • You should contact a health professional if you believe you have the symptoms of Hepatitis A.
  • Because the virus could sometimes take several weeks to be detected, it is likely that more cases may emerge in the near future.

Anyone who believes they may have contracted hepatitis A after consuming the recalled frozen berry products is encouraged to contact Slater and Gordon on 1800 555 777.

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