In a rather abrupt ending to the most closely watched media defamation lawsuit since Bollea (a.k.a. Hulk Hogan) v. Gawker, ABC and Beef Products Inc (BPI) announced a settlement midway through a jury trial on Wednesday morning, the Sioux City Journal reports. The trial came to an end in Union County Circuit Court in Elk Point, South Dakota.
On the morning of the seventeenth day of the jury trial, the presiding judge sent jurors home after a “major legal issue” halted proceedings, instructing them to return at 8:30 a.m. the following morning. But before the trial resumed the next day, circuit court judge Cheryl Gering announced a settlement had been reached. The terms have not been disclosed.
BPI sued ABC over its 2012 “pink slime” exposé, which reported on—and popularized a nauseating nickname for—the company’s “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB) product. The network’s coverage cast a spotlight on BPI’s production process, adding that “pink slime” is present in an estimated 70 percent of ground beef. It also indicated that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) may have gone against the opinion of some of its employees in approving the product for human consumption. In response, BPI alleged ABC’s negative coverage forced it to close plants, lay off workers, and lose business. In the early days of the jury trial, ABC countered by saying the New York Times and Rush Limbaugh had already covered the product in a negative light, and fast food outlets like Taco Bell and McDonald’s had already ceased purchasing the product.
BPI sued ABC for up to $1.9 billion in damages, more than 10 times what the jury awarded Bollea (Hogan) in the Gawker case. Under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, which triples penalties for parties that falsely call agricultural products unsafe, ABC might have been on the hook for three times that amount, or almost $6 billion.
Meatingplace reports BPI issued a statement saying it is “extraordinarily pleased” to have reached a settlement, reiterating that LFTB “is beef, and is safe, wholesome, and nutritious.” ABC, for its part, released a statement affirming that the company stands by the accuracy of its reporting. “Although we have concluded that the 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.”
We’ve reported in further detail on the specifics of the case and its potential significance in the broader food and media landscape. Read that coverage here and here.