Wal-Mart Stores Inc., facing a lawsuit from the family of a woman who died after eating a cantaloupe bought at one of its stores, is now suing the grower, distributor and the grower’s third-party auditor.
In a complaint filed in Wyoming federal court in late January, Wal-Mart asserts third-party claims against Edinburg, Texas, distributor Frontera Produce Ltd., auditors Primus Group Inc. and Bio Food Safety Inc., and Jensen Farms. Primus subcontracted Bio Food Safety to undertake the on-site audit of the cantaloupe farm, which resulted in a superior rating of 96%.
The third-party complaint is tied to a wrongful death lawsuit brought in Wyoming against Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart by Frederick Lollar, the husband of the deceased woman.
Wal-Mart recently hired new legal counsel, said Ryan Fothergill, in-house counsel for Santa Maria, Calif.-based Primus Labs, with a new strategy that apparently brings everyone into the lawsuit for indemnification purposes.
Fothergill said more legal actions might be coming from Wal-Mart against the four parties named in the Wyoming case.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart could not be reach for comment.
Bill Marler, Seattle food safety attorney handling about 45 of the 66 victim cases related to the listeria outbreak, said it is not unusual for a retailer to bring action against upstream suppliers, but Wal-Mart’s naming of a third-party auditor is unusual.
“I’ve never seen it before where a retailer has a third-party complaint against an auditor,” he said.
About 20 of the listeria victim lawsuits name Wal-Mart, and Kroger is the defendant in about 30 cases, Marler said.