The network risks paying up to $6 billion in damages.
Two simple, silly words —“pink slime” — could cost ABC Broadcasting billions of dollars.
That’s because J. Erik Connolly, the lawyer for Beef Products Inc., alleges that comments by ABC’s Diane Sawyer cost his South Dakota based client billions in damages, not to mention “hundreds of lost jobs,” and that the broadcasting network had "engaged in a disinformation campaign against a company that produces safe and nutritious beef.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that BPI's product is safe, but after ABC’s reports, many retailers including Wal-Mart halted the sale of ground beef products with which it is associated.
Luckily for Sawyer, she can personally breathe easy: Judge Cheryle Gering of the Union County Circuit Court in Elk Point, South Dakota, has dismissed charges against her, claiming that her role as an anchor meant she had less to do with the actual research behind the unflattering commentary. Still, representatives of ABC as well as the reporter behind the reports, Jim Avila, will have to go to court.
What makes this case particularly tough on ABC are South Dakota’s “veggie hate crime” laws, a colloquial reference to laws which allow distributors to receive three times the initial damages if they can prove that the safety of their product was incorrectly slandered. That means ABC risks paying up to $6 billion.
During a hearing on February 8th, Gering commented, “A jury could determine that there is clear and convincing evidence that ABC Broadcasting and Mr. Avila were reckless, that defendants had obvious reason to doubt the veracity of informants, and that they engaged in purposeful avoidance of the truth.”
The jury trial is scheduled for June 5. ABC said in a statement that they’re glad the court decided to dismiss claims against Sawyer, and that they “welcome the opportunity to defend the ABC News reports at trial and are confident that we will ultimately prevail."