When Social Media Collides with the Law

January 11, 2010

accident, Negligence

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/new-brunswick/story/2010/01/09/nb-loblaws-lawsuit-backlash.html

On 12 January 2008, a 15 passenger van carrying a Canadian high school basketball team from Bathurst, New Brunswick collided with a transport truck and trailer. Seven boys between the ages of 15 and 18 were killed along with the 51 year old wife of the team coach.

The truck and trailer were owned by Atlantic Wholesales Ltd. and Loblaws Inc. respectively. Loblaws is Canada’s largest food distributor. The two companies filed a statement of claim on 22 December 2009 against the van rental agency and Wayne Lord, the Bathurst High School basketball coach who was the driver of the van. The statement of claim alleged that Bathurst Van Inc. was negligent in its failure to maintain a suitably safe and proper vehicle and also alleged that Mr. Lord was negligent in the crash. Loblaws Inc. and Atlantic Wholesales Ltd. claimed special damages totalling $41,414.36 CDN, costs plus Harmonized Sales Tax, and interest.

The lawsuit was made public on 9 January 2010 and set off a firestorm of protest against Loblaws. Karen Blotnicky, associate professor of marketing at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, NS correctly points out that Loblaws was caught flat-footed and under-estimated the power of social media. For example, within 60 minutes of CBC.ca reporting the story, more than 400 comments had been posted, expressing outrage at the suit and calling for a boycott of Loblaws. 

Within hours, the lawsuit was withdrawn and an apology issued by Loblaws.  What on earth were they thinking in the first place?

The statement of claim is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/pdf/court-file.pdf

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s news release of the collision reconstruction report is at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/nb/news/Jul2808_223430.html

Transport Canada’s special investigative report is at http://www.cbc.ca/nb/media/pdf/transport_canada_report.pdf

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