Oregon Product Liability Issues Raised in Tainted Peanut Case

The Oregonian noted this afternoon that the FBI is asking people across the United States to contact it regarding illnesses traceable to tainted peanuts.

The case began in 2009 with an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration which found a Georgia plant run by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) to be “filthy, with dead rodents and droppings, and that the company sold tainted products and sometimes had them retested after a positive salmonella test,” the newspaper reports. The FBI statement comes one day after four top executives from Peanut Corporation of America were indicted on federal conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges, a legal move that goes far beyond what is normal in federal cases of this type.

The FBI statement (see link below) asks victims of the tainted food to fill out a confidential form so that they can be kept notified of developments in the case. The newspaper notes that in a highly unusual move, “the ad does not limit itself to patients, either. It asks anyone affected by the outbreak – which could include the hundreds of companies that recalled products – to respond.” According to the newspaper’s report, 700 people, including 15 here in Oregon, became ill after eating tainted products traced to the factory. Among those sickened, nine deaths were also reported.

There are a number of potential Oregon product liability issues raised by this case. Victims looking for justice need to hold the Georgia company accountable for its alleged offenses, but the role of middle-men, such as companies that processed the tainted peanuts, also bears close examination. Some of those companies may indeed have legitimate product safety claims against PCA. Looked at from the perspective of a Portland product safety lawyer, however, the question is not only whether salmonella test results were falsified, but whether that falsification took place in a manner that should have been obvious to the companies receiving the tainted goods. Put another way, the fact that PCA was breaking the law (if courts determine that is what the company did) would not, by itself, exempt its business partners from their own obligation to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of their own products.

Clearly this will be a complex, multi-layered legal action, one likely to involve many cases beyond the federal criminal complaint. For those who think they may have been victims of the tainted peanuts emerging from the Georgia factory it is also important to keep in mind that product liability, wrongful death or other actions filed in civil court are not directly dependent on the federal criminal case – they neither have to wait for it to be resolved, nor are they dependent on its outcome. Each legal action emerging from this situation needs to be considered on its own merits. That is what our court system is here to do.

The Oregonian: FBI seeks victims of peanut-related salmonella outbreak

FBI statement asking victims to come forward