BPI and ABC News settled the case Wednesday, before day 18 of court proceedings in a defamation case before the Union County (South Dakota) Circuit Court. BPI was suing ABC and correspondent Jim Avila for $1.9 billion, claiming the network and its reporter knowingly gave false information about BPI and the lean finely textured beef trimmings in its reporting from 2012. BPI claimed that reporting had a direct impact on the company closing three of its four plants, and caused consumers to believe the product was unsafe to eat. The case was expected to potentially last up to eight weeks.
Reports said the $1.9 billion defamation filing could have resulted in as much as $5.7 billion if BPI had won the case. Because South Dakota is one state with food disparagement laws protecting ag interests, a jury award could be multiplied.
Terms of the Wednesday’s settlement were confidential, with both sides claiming right and vindication by agreeing to end the case.
The Roth family, owners of BPI, and the company released a statement saying they were “extraordinarily pleased to have reached a settlement.
“While this has not been an easy road to travel, it was necessary to begin rectifying the harm we suffered as a result of what we believed to be biased and baseless reporting in 2012. Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about lean finely textured beef: It is beef, and it is safe, wholesome and nutritious.
“This agreement provides us with a strong foundation on which to grow the business, while allowing us to remain focused on achieving the vision of the Roth and BPI family.”
The Sioux City Journal reported in its court reporting that from the celebratory mood of BPI officials and their lawyers “one could conclude that terms of the settlement were favorable to the company.”
“We are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement,” BPI attorney Dan Web said in a brief statement from the courthouse. “I believe we have totally vindicated the product.”
Avila in a brief statement from the courthouse thanked jurors and said, “I wish they had had the chance to hear my side of the story. It’s important to note we’re not retracting anything. We’re not apologizing for anything.”
And in its own statement, ABC News defended its reporting.
“Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product,” said spokeswoman Julie Townsend. “Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase.”
The lawsuit was spurred by a series of reports in March and April 2012, in which ABC and its anchor and reporters used the “pink slime” moniker to describe lean finely textured beef. “Pink slime” was a name first used by a USDA microbiologist in 2002 to describe the product. Ensuing stories led to lean finely textured beef being dropped from grocery chains and calls to withdraw it from school cafeterias. BPI lawyers said the network used the term more than 350 times in broadcasts, online stories and social media, yet ignored BPI’s claims that the product was nutritious and safe.
ABC News opposed hearing the BPI case in state court and tried to move it to the U.S. District Court, to a jury where a victory would be less costly. The network made additional attempts to dismiss the case in state court and in the South Dakota Supreme Court, but all were denied as the case was allowed to move forward in 2014.
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