August 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

Coastal Contacts files lawsuit against Canadian opticians group

Coastal Contacts has filed a lawsuit against the College of Opticians of British Columbia for defamation regarding what Coastal says were misleading statements by the college about health and safety aspects of contacts sold on the web.

Bill Briggs

Senior Editor

Coastal Contacts Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the College of Opticians of British Columbia for defamation. The suit is in reaction to what the online contact lens retailer says were misleading statements made in a College web site posting regarding health and safety aspects of contact lenses sold on the Internet. The College of Opticians of British Columbia is the licensing organization for opticians in the province.

The lawsuit stems from a petition filed by the College in September 2007 in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Vancouver, asking the court to stop Coastal Contacts from selling prescription contact lenses online in British Columbia. The petition cited laws permitting only opticians who are certified contact lens fitters and members of the College from dispensing contacts, says Terry Vanderkruyk, vice president of corporate development at Coastal Contacts.

In April 2008 the court dismissed the petition, Vanderkruyk tells Internet Retailer, stating that Coastal Contacts complied with legal obligations in dispensing contact lenses.

Then in mid-May, according to the Coastal Contact defamation suit, which also was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the College of Opticians posted an announcement in the news section of its web site stating the judge misinterpreted the laws addressing dispensing contact lenses and that it would appeal the ruling.

The College’s announcement went on to warn that the purchase of contact lenses online, “whether for replacement lenses or otherwise, without the appropriate involvement, either directly or by way of supervision of a qualified contact lens fitter, poses the potential for a risk of harm.”

The Coastal Contacts suit claims that language in the College’s announcement defames the retailer and implies it fills prescriptions without a supervising contact lens fitter, which Coastal also denies. The College’s posting does not refer to any retailers or lens manufacturers by name.

“Since the judge’s ruling they posted this article and we believe that it makes reference to potential health risks to buying contact lenses over the Internet,” Vanderkruyk says. “We have shipped over 200 million pairs of contact lenses and there has not been one single complaint about health issues at any time. And the College has presented no examples of problems. We asked them in June to remove the posting, but they did not, so we feel we have no choice but to take stronger action.”

Commented Roger Hardy, Coastal Contacts’ president and CEO “We take exception to the misleading comments circulated by the College of Opticians of British Columbia in their attempts to preserve a monopoly.”

The College of Opticians of British Columbia did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.

Coastal Contacts, No. 120 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, says it sells more replacement contact lenses annually than any other retailer in Canada and that it served more than 1 million customers worldwide in 2007.

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