ELK POINT, S.D. | Bringing a landmark defamation case to a close, Beef Products Inc. has settled its $1.9 billion lawsuit against ABC News and correspondent Jim Avila over a series of reports that repeatedly referred to BPI's signature product as "pink slime."
Terms of the settlement are confidential, but judging from the celebratory mood of BPI officials and their lawyers Wednesday morning, one could conclude that terms of the settlement were favorable to the company.
"We are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement," BPI attorney Dan Webb said in a brief statement outside the Union County Courthouse. "I believe we have totally vindicated the product."
Webb took no questions from the media.
BPI owners Eldon and Regina Roth were present, but were not made available for questions.
BPI issued a written statement, that read in part: "While this was not an easy road to travel, it was necessary to begin rectifying the harm we suffered as a result of what we believed to be biased and baseless reporting in 2012. Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about Lean Finely Textured Beef: it is beef, and it is safe, wholesome and nutritious.
"This agreement provides us with a strong foundation on which to grow the business, while allowing us to remain focused on achieving the vision of the Roth and BPI family."
Avila spoke briefly after the announcement, first thanking the 16 jurors for their service.
"I wish they had had the chance to hear my side of the story," Avila said.
The veteran correspondent stood behind his reporting.
"It's important to note we're not retracting anything. We're not apologizing for anything," he said.
Avila told reporters he realized the settlement was a business decision for the network.
In a written statement from ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend, the network said the "amicable resolution" of the lawsuit was in the network's best interests.
"Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product," Townsend said. "Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case in not in the company's interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer's right to know about the products they purchase."
The start of the 18th day of the trial in Union County Circuit Court had a different buzz than previous days. Eldon and Regina Roth, who had been present for nearly the whole trial, were joined by several members of their family. A contingent from the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce also was present, signaling something important was in store.
Circuit Court Judge Cheryle Gering entered the courtroom, sat down and immediately made the announcement that surprised media and others not involved with the case.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have many things to tell you this morning. First of all, the case is settled. Neither the court, nor the jury, nor the public will be told the terms of the settlement today.
"The case is over."
Gering signed and filed the judgment of dismissal in the court file Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, Gering had sent the jurors home minutes after convening in the morning, telling them a "major legal issue" had come up in the case.
BPI sued ABC and Avila in September 2012, claiming that ABC knowingly used false information about LFTB and interfered with its business relationships with its customers. ABC's series of reports in March and April 2012 regularly referred to the product, which is blended with ground beef to reduce fat content, as "pink slime."
Dakota Dunes-based BPI claimed the reports caused a backlash against the product that eventually cost the meat processor millions of dollars in sales, forcing it to close three of its four plants.
ABC defended its stories as being factual and providing vital information to consumers.
This is a developing story. Check back at siouxcityjournal.com for updates.