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Arsenic in Wine: What You Need to Know About the Class Action Claims

3/24/2015 Articles

What is the Doris Charles, et al. v. The Wine Group, et al., No. BC576061 (Cal. Sup. Ct., Los Angeles County) lawsuit? 
A lawsuit filed last week as a class action against wineries, wine distributors and wine retailers alleging that wines made or sold by those companies contain unsafe levels of inorganic arsenic.

Could my wine business be affected by the law suit? 
Currently, approximately 28 companies have been named as defendants in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs’ attorneys could seek to amend their complaint to add other wineries, distributors or retailers.

What is the significance of this case?
Consumer class action claims of this nature are not new. Similar lawsuits have been filed with respect to arsenic levels in other consumer products such as bottled water, and against a wide variety of businesses alleging product defects or misrepresentations. The complaint alleges that the defendants knew or should have known that their wines contain unsafe levels of arsenic and seeks a court order certifying a class and requiring disclosure of the presence of arsenic on wine labels and advertising, and awarding damages and attorneys fees.

How can measurable levels of arsenic be found in my wine? 
The United States Environmental Protection Agency and other federal and state agencies have recognized that inorganic arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in soil and groundwater, including drinking water, in different parts of the world including the western United States. Trace levels of arsenic and other metals are also found in fruit juices, fruits, rice and other vegetables. 

Is class certification guaranteed?
Class certification is not guaranteed and is likely to be aggressively opposed in this litigation. The large number of variables in the growing of grapes and production of wine could affect the Superior Court’s ruling on whether there are sufficiently common issues of fact to warrant class certification.

Is there an “allowable” level of arsenic?
Wine and other alcoholic beverages are subject to federal and state regulation, including requirements for consumer warnings. The federal government has not set an arsenic limit for wine, but alcoholic beverages sold in California are already subject to consumer safety warning requirements under Proposition 65.   

If not named as a defendant, could this lawsuit still affect me and my business? 
Potentially, the lawsuit could lead to misperception that California wines have dangerous levels of arsenic, causing significant reputational and economic harm to individual businesses and the industry as a whole.  

What should I do? 
If you are named as a defendant, contact a lawyer immediately. If you are not named, it may still be prudent to consult with legal counsel and follow this case closely.

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