By Forrest Saunders, Multimedia Journalist - email
DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. (KTIV) -
Legal experts say it's shaping up as one of the biggest defamation cases in US legal history... maybe the biggest. One says it won't be an easy win for Beef Products Incorporated. But BPI's lawyer is confident.
To bring you up to speed, the lawsuit BPI is bringing against ABC News seeks $1.2 billion in damages. The company announced the suit Thursday.
Inside the more than 250 page complaint, allegations that ABC News made around 200 "false" statements about BPI's product, lean finely textured beef. Company officials say ABC's stories led the public to believe their product isn't safe.
BPI calls ABC's actions a "vendetta," saying they caused them to close three plants, cut 700 jobs, and lose $400 million in profit.
"I lay all the blame on ABC News. It was 30 years to build the business. You know, it took 11 broadcasts, and 14 online stories, and 28 days, and destroy it," said BPI Director of Engineering Nick Roth.
BPI attorney Dan Webb says this case is the biggest example of defamation he's seen.
"This course of defamatory conduct, I believe, is unparalleled in American history," said Webb.
Even so, Drake University Agricultural Law Professor Neil Hamilton says it'll be a tough battle for BPI to win. He says defamation cases are difficult to begin with.
"Particularly in a situation like this, where you are arguing food product disparagement, and you are suing ABC News and other media outlets who are going to argue First Amendment protection," said Hamilton.
BPI officials say the case could take years. And Hamilton doesn't guess ABC will want to settle out of court.
"I don't think there is any reason to believe ABC is going to write anybody a check. To do that, the economics aren't, perhaps, as important as the idea that they'd admit some type of culpability, that they did something wrong," said Hamilton.
Corporate Administrator Rich Jochum says the company is looking for a fair resolution, whether that's in or out of court. He says they're confident in their case, citing the extensive research they prepared.
"You don't take on ABC News just on a whim. We're optimistic in terms of the chances, and our expectations are to win. Otherwise we wouldn't have filed the suit to begin with," said Jochum.
ABC News issued a response to the lawsuit. Senior Vice President of ABC News Jeffrey Schneider said: "The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously."
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