Tuna lawsuit could open Pandora's Box of new litigation, observer says

Chris Rizo Apr. 21, 2009, 3:54am

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-By allowing a New Jersey woman to sue a company over the mercury poisoning she allegedly suffered from eating the company's canned albacore tuna, the U.S. Supreme Court may have opened a can of legal worms, one observer said.

On Monday, the nation's highest court allowed a lawsuit to move forward that was filed by Deborah Fellner, whose diet consisted almost exclusively of canned tuna for five years.

She sued Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, the maker of Chicken of the Sea brand tuna, for failing to warn her of the dangers of eating its tuna fish product.

For it's part, the San Diego, Calif.-based company said it was not responsible for condition, arguing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not consider canned tuna fish worthy of mercury warnings to consumers.

"Yet again, federal pre-emption took it on the chin," opined Law & more Editor Jane Genova. "And a Pandora's Door of state lawsuits has possibly been thrown open in how the food industry does its labeling."

Fellner sued under the New Jersey Product Liability Act over her alleged exposure to methylmercury and other harmful compounds contained the company's tuna fish products from 1999 to 2004.

U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Cavanaugh threw out Fellner's lawsuit, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit. Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the appeals court ruling to stand.

"The tricky question of alleged mercury content in some fish, such as tuna, and its damage to human health can now be explored in both personal injury and class action litigation," Genova wrote. "Beware the Sushi industry and all its middle-people."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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