Avenues open for lawsuits over CJD

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The Independent Online
While the beef crisis has yet to spawn a stampede of victims rushing for their writs, there are potential avenues for claiming compensation for suffering and financial damage.

A Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease victim - even one who had consumed burgers in Elvis Presley-type proportions - would make little headway trying to sue the retailers of the foods. That is because of the difficulty in proving which of a multitude of butchers, burger bars and other foodstores passed on the fatal ingredient, perhaps five or six years ago. A complaint against the suppliers of foodstuffs for cows might be a different matter. Farmers also might have possible claims.

During the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, the largely self-regulated industry, the so-called "renderers", used sheep slurry to improve protein content of the foodstuffs.

According to Martyn Day, a personal injury lawyer specialising in "class" actions for multiple clients, a big question is whether the protein, often from old carcasses, was heated sufficiently to kill the disease.

A fresh wave of political difficulty for ministers would come if and when people contemplated suing the Government for negligence. Much would depend on whether the small number of CJD cases hides an epidemic. A large number of claimants could give rise to a high-profile class action - and considerable public sympathy.

The more CJD cases that emerge, the greater will be the political pressure to pay compensation without claimants having to prove their case.