Smithfield, insurers file suit over 2009 plant fire

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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MILWAUKEE – Patrick Cudahy Inc., parent company Smithfield Foods and several insurers are suing the US Navy for $326 million in losses stemming from the 2009 fire at Cudahy’s meat packing plant. The blaze was the result of a stolen military flare that was set off as part of a 4th of July celebration, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

The lawsuit has been filed by lawyers for the insurance companies, which paid the company’s claim, Keira Lombardo, Smithfield Foods’ vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, told MEATPOULTRY.com. “The insurance companies have a right by law to do so without our permission. We are named as a party to the suit for procedural reasons, but we are not directing this lawsuit,” she said.

Filed in federal court in Milwaukee, the lawsuit alleges the US Navy was negligent in not controlling its inventory of flares at Camp Wilson in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where US Marine Corps reservist Joshua Popp was stationed in 2007. Popp allegedly took the illumination flare that his brother then later set off from the back yard of his parent’s Cudahy home on July 5, 2009. The illuminated flare landed on the Patrick Cudahy plant’s roof, resulting in a fire that put a segment of the plant out of operation for months.

Based on company filings, Smithfield Foods settled its claims with insurers over the blaze for $208 million. Those insurers have now joined the new lawsuit, along with Smithfield, which claims it also suffered $118 million in uninsured losses from the fire.

Meanwhile, the US Navy previously denied a claim for the damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, claiming the US waives immunity under the act only if an employee commits a wrongful act while acting within the scope of employment. The Navy reportedly indicated to Smithfield's attorneys in a November letter that its investigation revealed that was not the case for Popp.

Joshua Popp and his brother ultimately were sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to recklessly endangering safety.

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