Amid the Listeriosis outbreak which has claimed 180 lives and left 940 affected, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) has released a guide aimed at helping consumers deal with contaminated food products, as well as food poisoning.
Magauta Mphahlele, the Acting Ombudsman of the CGSO, released a statement on Thursday welcoming the commitment of suppliers to voluntarily refund customers when returning contaminated products, even without a receipt.
According to Mphahlele, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) plans to make it much easier for consumers to claim from producers, importers, retailers or distributors for any harm caused by the supply of unsafe products. This Act will also protect consumers if damages arise from food poisoning.
Under Section 61 of the CPA, claims for damages are allowed irrespective of whether there was any negligence on the part of the supplier or manufacturer. Consumers are protected from harm that may arise from product failure, defect, hazard or inadequate instructions.
Mphahlele stresses that it is important to show that the damages were suffered because of the product’s shortcomings.
The type of harm for which a consumer can claim damages for include:
- The death of, or injury to, any natural person;
- An illness of any natural person;
- Any loss of, or physical damage to, any property, irrespective of whether it is movable or immovable; and
- Any economic loss that results from any of the types of harm listed above.
Mphahlele also clarified that ‘economic loss’ refers to the indirect loss of finances that have resulted from the first three types of harm listed above. This includes loss of income, loss of financial support (resulting from the death of a family member), as well as hospital bills.
The claim for these damages must be brought forward within three years of the death or injury of a person.
Although consumers are no longer required to prove negligence to recover damages, it is still necessary to prove that the food sold to them is tainted and caused them to become ill. This makes it necessary for customers to collect as much evidence as possible by having tests conducted at a medical facility where it can be proved that the tainted food is directly linked to their being ill.
Where do I lodge a Complaint or the claim for damages?
The CPA does not have a specific recommendation as to where to lodge a complaint. The courts have the power to make an assessment of the harm caused by the tainted product, and may also apportion liability among those who are jointly found guilty and liable.
There is an issue of which court the claim will have to presented to. It will be either the Magistrate’s Court, or the High Court.
Irrespective of which court the claim is presented to, the CGSO has mediated many a dispute between consumer and supplier relating to to spilled food or illness arising from consuming food bought at restaurant or take-away eateries. Consumers can lodge a complaint relating to food poisoning with the CGSO.
In many instances where court has proved that the illness was not caused by the food product, the supplier has still provided a replacement product or refund.
Where illness arose, suppliers provided additional compensation, despite the consumer not supplying proof that their illness is directly linked to the product consumed, nor the supplier admitting liability.