Beginning from a few years back, Smithfield Foods Inc. has faced a number of lawsuits and controversies ranging from nuisances, false safety claims, unsafe working conditions and inadequate PPE especially in these times. Over these few years, individuals and non profit organizations alike have filed a series of lawsuits claiming that the Food company has questionable policies.
Recently, Smithfield Foods Inc. are being sued over allegations that they failed to protect workers in Missouri during the coronavirus pandemic. The pork processing company has stepped up and denied all of these claims stating that they are without factual or legal merit.
It is hard to look away from the previous lawsuits that have been filed and won against Smithfield Foods Inc. though it does not in any way indicate that negligence can be proven in this case. If you have in any way been a victim in any of the various Smithfield Foods Lawsuits, speak to a Smithfield Foods Lawsuit Lawyer today.
At Oshan and Associates, our Smithfield Foods Lawsuit Lawyers have kept abreast of the lawsuits against Smithfield Foods and are duly informed of all proceedings. If you or a loved one was or is a victim of these lawsuits, our Lawyers would like to help you seek justice and get just compensation.
History of Smithfield Foods
Smithfield Foods Inc is a food processing company based in Smithfield, Virginia. They focus mainly on pig and pork production; with over 500 farms in the US and other contracts with 2,000 independent farms across the country, the company is the largest pig and pork producer in the world.
Smithfield Foods Inc. was founded in 1936 by Joseph W. Luter and his son. The company started out small but soon began to gain recognition, following several mergers and changes in leadership, the company has grown to be known as the “pork giant”. As at 2000, the company’s meat-processing plant was said to be the world’s largest and they have not dropped rank since then.
Globally, the company employed 50,702 employees in 2016 and reported an annual revenue of $14.3 billion. In 2017 and 2018, Smithfield Foods employed an aggregate of 106,771 and made sales of $15.3 and $15.5 billion respectively.
Despite the company’s large profile and seemingly giant footprints, the company has seen quite a lot of controversy. Several allegations have popped up over the years, forcing the company to face and try to debunk these claims. They have not been very successful as the pork giant has had to pay jury awarded penalties of nearly $550 million US Dollars and these allegations show no signs of abating.
Smithfield Foods Allegations
Until recently, allegations against Smithfield Foods have mostly consisted of nuisance suits related to the disposal of hog waste. This is because the pigs are usually housed together in identical barns with metal roofs and the floors of the buildings are slatted, which allows waste to be passed into 30-feet-deep open-air pits. They are known as anaerobic lagoons and they are said to release odors.
Although, state governments have responded to these nuisance suits against Smithfield and other similar litigation by strengthening right-to-farm laws to significantly protect farmers from frivolous lawsuits.
This reaction by the state governments might have come in a bit late as Smithfield had already recorded four lawsuits with jury awarded penalties and more was to follow. About 500 plaintiffs in 29 cases have sued Smithfield Foods through its subsidiary Murphy-Brown claiming harm from odors and insects related to anaerobic lagoons.
In April 2018, 10 plaintiffs who filed claims against Smithfield Foods were awarded by a jury in federal court a total of $750,000 in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages. But because of the North Carolina law that caps punitive damages, the award for punitive damages was adjusted downward.
In July 2018, two neighbors of a Smithfield operation in Duplin Country filed a lawsuit and were awarded a $25 million verdict. One of the plaintiffs alleged that the nutrients being used on the farm in question were drifting onto his property. Though, much later testing revealed that the actual source of his complaint was human waste from a nearby septic tank.
In December 2018, more claims were filed against Smithfield Foods. Eight plaintiffs who live near one of Smithfield’s contract farms in Sampson County won their verdicts against the company. Although the judge ruled that the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to justify awarding punitive damages, the eight plaintiffs won an aggregate of $102,400 in compensatory damages.
After a little breathing space, In March 2019, ten plaintiffs claimed they allegedly suffered due to nuisances from Duplin County, a Smithfield farm that raised about 5,000 pigs. A jury awarded $440,000 to ten of them, although, Smithfield Foods appealed this judgement in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
Also, In March 2019, Smithfield Foods was found to be at fault for nuisances that neighbors suffered from the waste generated by the thousands of hogs in the company’s operation. The jurors decided that Smithfield Foods should pay $420,000 in penalties. A good number of these damages were awarded in an attempt to punish Smithfield Foods for its actions.
There are other pending lawsuit cases filed against the pork giant like the delayed sixth hog farming lawsuits and false food safety claims. But the recent lawsuit filed against Smithfield Foods is one of inadequate PPE claims.
Smithfield Foods Sued in Missouri over working conditions during the Coronavirus Pandemic
A Non-Profit Organization named the Rural Community Workers Alliance and an anonymous Smithfield employee have filed a lawsuit against Smithfield Foods Inc. The lawsuit accused the pork giant of failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment for their workers at their Milan, Missouri pork plant.
The anonymous employee filing this suit in conjunction with RCWA has sued Smithfield Foods Inc. as Jane Doe in Federal Court Missouri because she says she’s scared that they’ll come after her if they know who she is.
In the letter of complaint that was sent out, the Smithfield employee says she works on the “cut floor” where up to 1100 pigs are butchered in an hour, to keep up with the speed of the line, workers have to stand so closely together, hence working “shoulder to shoulder”.
This had never been a problem until the coronavirus hit, now employees are afraid of exposure to a virus that is killing a lot of people every day. The employee alleges that Smithfield doesn’t seem to care even though they have already closed three other operations where workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The World health Organization has continuously advised shelter-in-place orders with social distancing, to maintain at least 1-meter (three feet) distance between another person and to regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand-rub. But the stay-at-home orders issued by Missouri health department on April 3rd allows meat processing factories to remain open with the conditions of adhering to CDC and other public health guidelines to protect their workers.
The employee going under the alias Jane Doe says she is using her lawsuit to bring to light what she’s experienced and hopes to force Smithfield to change the way they treat workers. She says Smithfield is risking their lives by not providing adequate PPE. She also alleges that workers who have stayed home because they were sick with symptoms of the coronavirus were disciplined by Smithfield for missing a Scheduled shift.
This act has served to deter other workers from staying home even if they feel sick. Which likely connotes that it is likely that there are other sick people mingling and working in such close quarters with healthy people thus facilitating the spread of the virus.
Jane Doe also alleges that the workers only get two 15 minutes break all day and a half-hour for lunch. They wear the same gloves and masks all day and they don’t have time to wash their hands regularly. She also says, there is always a crowd in the cafeteria and when the company started doing temperature checks the crowd wouldn’t abate.
She believes the plant hasn’t done enough to protect the workers, they provided insufficient protective equipment or issues and no extended breaks to enable everyone wash their hands. The lawsuit also alleges that instead of giving the workers these required breaks, Smithfield Foods has extended their shifts up to 11 hours and on a faster line which means more bumping into each other. She also claims that they don’t have time to cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough because the line is moving so fast.
At the 1000 employee plant, 70 workers on April 2, signed onto a letter from the RCWA asking Smithfield to allow workers quarantine at home with pay or to modify the workplace to keep the employees safe. Reportedly, a week after the letter was sent, Smithfield installed “plexiglass shields” between some workers in some parts of the plant but the shields are ineffective as they don’t hang low enough to cover people’s faces.
The allegations in the lawsuit also continue to say that rather than reduce working hours, the plant announced a new initiative of a $500 “responsibility bonus” to anyone who doesn’t miss a single shift from first of April to first of May. A cash incentive to keep coming to work even though their lives are at risk.
The lawsuit filed in Missouri federal court claims Smithfield has created a “public nuisance” by providing inadequate personal protective equipment. “Put simply, workers, their family members. And many others who live in Milan and in the broader community may die – all because Smithfield refused to change its practices in the face of this pandemic”, the Rural Community Workers Alliances said in the complaint.
The lawsuit also alleges that “Smithfield is so unwilling to acknowledge its responsibilities to its workers and the community where it operates that it put the blame on ‘certain cultures’ for the spread of the disease in its South Dakota Plant…”
As April 16 2020, Smithfield’s South Dakota operation which is responsible for 5% of U.S. pork production, has supposedly become a coronavirus hotspot. This is because over 700 workers and close contacts have tested positive for the coronavirus. It was reported that the first worker tested positive for the virus on March 24 but the plant was not closed until April 14.
The pork giant, Smithfield Foods Inc. has closed several plants like the South Dakota plant, one in Wisconsin, another one in Missouri and several others. It has done all this in a bid to protect workers health and keep them safe. When contacted by the Washington Post about these allegations, Kiera Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, said the company has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation but commented saying “The allegations contained in the complaint are without factual or legal merit and include claims previously made against the company that have been investigated and determined to be unfounded. We look forward to aggressively defending the company in court”
As at May 6, a federal judge has dismissed the worker safety lawsuit filed April 23rd by plaintiff Jane Doe, an unnamed worker at the Smithfield plant in Milan, Missouri on the grounds that such matters are not up to the courts. The suit did not seek monetary damages but requested that Smithfield foods be forced to change its practices.
“Smithfield is already taking many of the steps called for by the RCWA, including screening production-line workers for symptoms and installing barriers between them”, District Judge in Kansas City says. Smithfield also pointed out that it was complying with Joint Meat Processing Guidance issued by the CDC and OSHA.
The Judge also said “that under President Donald Trump’s executive order in April necessitating meatpacking plants to remain open during the pandemic, the federal government and not the courts, were responsible for overseeing working conditions”. Thus, pushing the case squarely into the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and (USDA) United States Department of Agriculture’s jurisdiction.
With all of these pending allegations and inconclusive court proceedings, it is a bit difficult to come to any valid conclusion. But if you or a loved one has been a victim of Smithfield Foods Lawsuit, be it personal injury or wrongful death, please contact a qualified Smithfield Foods Lawsuit Lawyer today.
Let us help
At Oshan and Associates, we have extensive knowledge of the laws and we are kept abreast of the facts. We will not hesitate to use our resources to the fullest to ensure that you get the justice and compensation you deserve. We have successfully fought lawsuits cases and won, we are experienced lawyers, let us help.
We understand that it can feel a bit overwhelming to try and take on huge companies like this one. That is why we are here to help you level the playing field a little bit, don’t be silent about your pain, we will fight aggressively to produce a positive outcome. Call us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
Was your COVID-19 business interruption claim denied by your insurance company? You may be entitled to claim against them for insurance bad faith and wrongful denial of your claim. Our business interruption claims attorney can help.
A lot of businesses have taken a hit since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US. Business outfits are thus looking to find protection under their various business interruption policies. This article provides information on business interruption policies in the light of COVID-19 pandemic.