With jury selection expected to be completed by Friday, June 2, Beef Products Inc.'s (BPI) $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC and correspondent Jim Avila, originally filed in September 2012, is finally set to begin Monday, June 5. As reported by the Sioux City Journal in Union County, S.D., it is expected to be “a case the scope of which has never been seen in the county, perhaps even the state.”
The lawsuit is over a series of stories ABC in which BPI's Lean Finely Textured Beef, was referred to as "pink slime.” Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based BPI has claimed that those reports caused “hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and led to a drop in demand for the product, the shuttering of three production plants and layoffs of 700 workers,” the Journal article states. BPI is seeking a jury award of $1.9 billion, the amount it estimates the reports did $1.9 billion in actual damages to its company. Additionally, the article states, if BPI wins, its claim could be tripled to $5.7 billion under provisions of South Dakota's Agricultural Food Product Disparagement Act.
The Journal reports that ABC has stood behind Avila's reporting, saying that his reports were well-researched and provided valuable information to consumers. Additionally, it states that ABC said in a written statement: "We look forward to defending vigorously both the integrity of our reporting and the principle that people deserve to know what's in the food they eat."
With a total population of approximately 15,000, Union County, S.D., in which the trial being held, is facing a number of challenges due to the size and national attention of the trial. Because it is expected to last two months, a pool of 400 jurors was called from which 12 jurors and 5 alternates are to be selected. Additionally, with its main courtroom too small to accommodate the trial, the county spent $45,000 updating a community room into a courtroom – adding a judge’s bench and witness, court clerk and reporter stands; upgrading lighting, electrical wiring and the sound system; and bringing in more than 100 chairs for the gallery and jurors. Additionally, the article states, five part-time bailiffs were hired for the trial to enable clerk of court staff members to remain in their regular jobs, and a retired judge will cover Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering’s caseload while he presides over the trial.