MARKHAM, Ont. — The Alberta Beekeepers Commission doesn’t support the proposed lawsuit against Bayer CropScience and Syngenta over neonicotinoids, but individual beekeepers may have other ideas.
Paula Lombardi with the litigation law firm Siskinds LLP of Toronto said there have been “serious inquiries” from beekeepers in Alberta about joining the more than 100 producers from Ontario and Manitoba who have already signed on to the suit.
“We’re seeking more beekeepers to support the claim by signing a retainer,” Lombardi told the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association’s annual meeting in Markham Nov. 21.
“We are, without a doubt, the best-known firm in Canada, if not North America, in this area.”
Siskinds filed the lawsuit in September on behalf of two apiaries in Ontario: Sun Parlour Honey near Windsor and Munro Honey near Sarnia. The suit asks for $450 million for a claim period from 2006 to 2014 for all beekeepers in Canada except Quebec.
In October, the law firm announced that it will pursue a second class action against Bayer and Syngenta on behalf of Quebec beekeepers.
The first hurdle is to have a motion for certification approved by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. That decision will come no earlier than the second half of next year, according the Siskinds’ litigation team handling the case.
Time will then be set aside for discovery and possibly a trial. A settlement could be reached out of court at any time during this process.
“The idea is to let claims be brought forward together so that cases that would otherwise be brought to court are heard,” said Siskinds partner Mike Robb.
“It levels the field against companies like Bayer and Syngenta.”
Beekeepers will have an opportunity to opt out of the lawsuit if it is certified, said Siskinds partner Dimitri Lascaris, who is working on the portfolio with Robb and Lombardi.
If a compensation settlement is reached, beekeepers who have not opted out will have an opportunity receive damages.
“There’s no downside at all if you stay in the lawsuit,” Lascaris said.
Meanwhile, Robb hopes more beekeepers will sign a retainer with Siskinds so the lawsuit gains momentum. The objective is to bring 3,000 beekeeping operations on board in Ontario.
Media reports have suggested that beekeepers will put themselves at financial risk by pursing the action.
In an opinion article appearing in the Oct. 27 edition of the Financial Post, Paul Driessen wrote: “Beekeepers blaming pesticides for bee losses could face bigger losses in court.”
However, Lascaris said financial risk does not extend to beekeepers, even the two plaintiffs.
Munro Honey and Sun Parlor have signed a contractual arrangement with Siskinds that shifts the financial risk to the law firm, he said.
In addition, Siskinds plans to apply for a type of insurance through the Law Foundation of Ontario that will cover the costs of the lawsuit if it is lost.
Lascaris said there’s been a campaign to discourage beekeepers from participating in the lawsuit.
“They’re trying to persuade people to opt out of the case so that their liability will be less,” he said.
Siskinds will profit in the case of a win. Lascaris said the usual fee amounts to 20 to 25 percent of the recovery.
Siskinds will pick up the tab in the case of a loss, including some of the costs accrued by the defendants.
Lascaris said it typically takes years for a lawsuit of this type to reach trial. However, less than 10 percent of suits reach trial for a variety of reasons, including out of court settlements.
Siskinds has taken on powerful clients before, Lascaris said, including Bayer and other defendants over a case related to the price fixing of chemical products.