U.S. Supreme Court allows tuna lawsuit

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
April 21, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling allowing a New Jersey consumer to sue Chicken of the Sea over mercury poisoning, which she alleges she contracted by eating tuna products over a five-year period.

Tri-Union Seafoods, parent company of Chicken of the Sea, asked the Supreme Court to review the case, but the justices let the ruling stand without comment.

Last August, the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals revived the class action lawsuit Deborah Fellner originally filed in New Jersey Superior Court in February 2006. She is seeking damages under the New Jersey Products Liability Act for the "extreme physical and emotional injuries" she allegedly sustained from a diet consisting almost exclusively of Chicken of Sea tuna from 1999 to 2004.

Fellner claims Tri-Union failed  to warn consumers of the health risks associated with excessive tuna consumption. Tuna and other predatory fish can contain relatively high levels of the naturally occurring neurotoxin methylmercury.

The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a U.S. District Court ruling dismissing the suit on grounds that it was pre-empted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's regulatory approach to the risks posed by mercury in fish.

The case is now expected to go to trial.

Last month, the "big three" tuna companies became winners in a California courtroom , fending off the state's appeal to have mercury warnings placed on tuna can labels.

Former state Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea in 2004, claiming the state's controversial law, Proposition 65, required tuna labels to warn consumers of the dangers of consuming a product containing methylmercury. The law requires food manufacturers to warn consumers of products containing potentially hazardous ingredients.

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