Kyle Barnett Mar. 31, 2015, 12:58pm


BATON ROUGE –  A Reserve attorney who filed a class action lawsuit against a who’s who list of discount wine producers and sellers says he is now planning a similar suit in Puerto Rico and looking forward to combining all similar lawsuits filed elsewhere into a nationwide action.

Daniel Becnel, lead partner of Reserve-based Becnel Law Firm, filed suit against 100 discount wine makers and sellers for the arsenic content in their wines, which he claims can be harmful to consumers. The lawsuit is expected to be worth several million dollars in damages for what is described in the filing as several years of neglect and exposing consumers to dangerous levels of toxins.

“It is all of the low end wines that have arsenic in them all. The big player, Trader Joe’s, sells a lot of them and Franzia sells a lot of them,” he said.

Becnel said the danger in arsenic consumption is mainly for heavy wine drinkers, but even for moderate drinkers it poses a health risk.

“All of the toxicologists and medical experts say it has a propensity to build up and can kill you ultimately, especially if you are some of these people like alcoholics that drink the stuff day and night,” he said.

The class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on March 27 on behalf of lead plaintiff Laura Marvin, a Baton Rouge resident, and all similarly affected Louisiana residents. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge James Brady.

The lawsuit argues that by not providing a proper filtering process for their wines, the defendants were able to undercut competitors and sell their products at a lower price.

However, The Wine Institute, a trade organization representing California wineries, issued a statement saying they stand by the quality of their members’ wines.

“Unfounded litigation has raised questions about the safety of California wine. We want to assure you that the health and safety of consumers is of the greatest importance to our wineries and that wine produced by our members is perfectly safe,” the statement said.

In fact, The Wine Institute maintains that arsenic is naturally occurring in many different types of foods and drinks, including drinking water, but has never been regulated in wines.

“Arsenic is prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water and food. As an agricultural product, wines from throughout the world contain trace amounts of arsenic as do juices, vegetables, grains and other alcohol beverages and this is nothing new,” The Wine Institute’s statement said.

The trade association noted that consumers would have to drink 14 glasses of wine per day, or nearly three bottles of wine, to equal the arsenic limit allowable in drinking water by the Environmental Protection Association.

The legal action mirrors several other lawsuits that have been filed against the same wine producers and sellers across the country.

Becnel said it is his hope the court will allow for all lawsuits to be combined into a multi-district litigation (MDL), which would allow for attorneys to provide representation on behalf of anyone nationwide who may have been exposed to arsenic thorough the defendants’ products.

“We are going to file for a motion for an MDL to concentrate all of the cases from all over the country. There have not been many filed. Some have been filed in state courts in California,” he said.

However, even before a motion to create an MDL can be heard, Becnel has indicated his law firm is going to pursue similar cases in other jurisdictions.

“We are filing one in Puerto Rico, probably tomorrow, and there are a few others that are going to be filed around the country,” he said.

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