CHICAGO – Lawyers for Beef Products Inc. (BPI) and its subsidiaries have dropped some of the defendants from the company’s lawsuit against broadcaster ABC and others. However, Jim Avila and Diane Sawyer remain defendants in the case.
“BPI continues to believe strongly in the merits of all its claims against all defendants,” Dan Webb, co-chairman of Winston & Strawn LLP and counsel for BPI, said in a statement. “BPI’s decision to dismiss some of the other defendants does not release the primary targets of the litigation, nor does it have anything to do with the merits of our case.”
The lawsuit stems from ABC News coverage of lean finely textured beef (LFTB). Attorneys for BPI claim that ABC News defamed the company’s LFTB product more than 100 times over four weeks in news reports and social media posts. The lawsuit also alleges that the network’s coverage of LFTB, labeled “pink slime” by critics, misled consumers to believe the product is unsafe.
Defendants who were dismissed from the lawsuit include ABC News, Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer, former US Dept. of Agriculture employees; ABC News correspondent David Kerley and Kit Foshee, a former BPI employee.
“As happens in most litigation heading to trial, we elected to narrow the number of issues that the jury would ultimately need to decide at trial by focusing our case on the three main defendants — ABC, Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila,” Webb explained. “It should be noted, in particular, that BPI is voluntarily dismissing the corporate entity known as ABC News because ABC is the corporate entity that published the defamatory reports in the spring of 2012 and employed the individuals responsible for those reports.”
BPI is seeking more than $1 billion in damages for defamation, product and food disparagement and tortious interference with business relationships. At least 700 workers lost their jobs after BPI closed three processing facilities and reduced processing capacity at a fourth plant.
The case is Beef Products Inc. et al v. American Broadcasting Cos et al, First Judicial Circuit Court of South Dakota, Union County, No. 12-292.