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BC Supreme Court certifies class action lawsuit against Kimberly-Clark over flushable wipes

Personal-care products maker produced wipes that contained harmful bacteria
Case centres on claims of personal injury after using Kimberly-Clark's Cottonelle Flushable Wipes and Cottonelle GentlePlus Flushable Wipes | Rob Kruyt

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has certified a class-action lawsuit against American personal-care products maker Kimberly-Clark Corp. (NYSE:KMB), although it is a narrower class certification than sought.

The lawsuit is on behalf of British Columbians who claim to have suffered personal injury after using Kimberly-Clark's Cottonelle Flushable Wipes and Cottonelle GentlePlus Flushable Wipes.

The class that was certified were those people who purchased Kimberly-Clark's wipes and were injured by those wipes, Slater Vecchio LLP lawyer Justin Giovannetti told BIV in an interview. The class that was not certified was the one that included people who simply purchased the wipes but were not injured, he added. 

"The claims of the personal injury subclass are certified, including claims they have as members of the economic subclass," wrote Justice Sharon Matthews in her Aug. 28 judgment. "The claims of the economic subclass members who are not also personal injury subclass members are not certified."

Representative plaintiff Linda Bowman filed her lawsuit after Kimberly-Clark recalled its flushable skin care wipes manufactured between Feb. 7, 2020 and Sept. 14, 2020, after some of these wipes were found to have been contaminated with Pluralibacter gergoviae, a bacteria that can cause serious infections, according to Giovannetti, who represented Bowman.

Individuals with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to being infected by Pluralibacter gergoviae, he added.

Bowman testified that she began purchasing Kimberly-Clark’s flushable wipes in 2020 and provided a receipt for a large package purchased from Costco on July 17, 2020, according to the judgment.

"She deposed that she used the wipes several times a day because of underlying health conditions including ulcerative colitis," Matthews wrote. "She deposed that she developed inflamed hair follicles and sores in her pubic region. She deposed that her pre-existing back and general body pain worsened. She also developed inflamed skin follicles in other areas where she uses the wipes including her mouth, nose, arms, breasts, and buttocks. She deposed that the inflammation is painful."

Certification is the stage of a class action proceeding where the court determines whether a case should proceed as a class action. Class actions allow a group of individuals with similar claims to be represented collectively in a single lawsuit. The certification process does not make determinations on liability or damages.

"Next we have to give notice to all of the class members," Giovannetti said. "Then, after that notice period expires, anybody who is a class member who did not opt out during that notice period, which typically is 90 days or so, they're automatically class members."

He is asking for people who purchased, used and were injured by the wipes to contact him.

[email protected]