SPRINGDALE, Ark. – The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a $10 million verdict against Tyson Foods and ruled that the company is entitled to a new trial.
In reversing the lower court's decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that Tyson was entitled to a new trial because jurors gave "untruthful and/or misleading answers" in juror questionnaires. Exacerbating the situation were limitations imposed on questioning during jury selection. The court also found that "a poultry grower having no title to the chickens or feed placed with the grower for fattening and future marketing of the birds by the flock's owner is not an ‘aggrieved consumer’ for the purposes of the Consumer Protection Act".
"This decision affirms our position that the trial in this case was so improperly conducted that the verdict could not stand," Tyson said in an e-mail statement. "The family farmers who raise our chickens are vital to our business and we want them to be successful. Contrary to the claims made in the case, we abide by the terms of the contracts we have with poultry farmers and we strive to ensure all of them are treated fairly.
"Tyson currently has contracts with more than 180 poultry farmers in southwest Arkansas and southeast Oklahoma to raise broiler chickens for our Broken Bow operation," the statement continued. "More than 50 of them are in McCurtain County. Our Broken Bow plant and related operations, including a feed mill and hatchery, currently employ more than 1,700 people."
The case stems from a lawsuit filed against Tyson in May 2008. Fifty-four individuals and business entities alleged Tyson committed negligence, fraud and violated the Consumer Protection Act. The plaintiffs alleged that Tyson targeted them for failure by sending them unhealthy chickens and feed in retaliation for not upgrading their chicken houses from conventional to cool cell facilities, according to court documents.
The jury, split nine to three, awarded the plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages approaching $10 million. Tyson filed a motion for a new trial alleging evidentiary errors and juror misconduct.