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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Why People Question the Civil Justice System – A “Fowl” Case

We work so hard to bring forward legitimate case, and we have sued ConAgra more the a few times, however, the article by Adam Silverman of the Free Press he wrote this morning “Judge hears foul fowl case” made me cringe.

The case of the allegedly foul fowl went before a federal judge Thursday in Burlington. Three convicts, including a double murderer and a drunken driver who killed a person in a car crash, sued ConAgra Foods Inc. of Omaha, Neb., on allegations a box of chicken they bought and shared in prison contained entrails and the contents of the bird’s digestive system.

The packaged-food manufacturer denies wrongdoing and is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed. A one-hour trial was held Thursday in U.S. District Court in which the convicts acted as their own attorneys and were the only witnesses supporting their case. They are seeking at least $100,000 in damages.

Chief Judge William Sessions III, who heard the case instead of a jury, said he’ll issue a written ruling later. Christopher Butts, 52, of Dayville, Conn., the drunken-driving convict, claims he ate the piece of defective chicken and became nauseated; dealt with ongoing health problems, including a loss of appetite; lost weight; no longer enjoys chicken; and was subject to merciless taunting in prison, according to the lawsuit.

"I was sick. I don’t know if it was psychosomatic," said Butts, who served four years and has been released to probation. "I had diarrhea. I just couldn’t put anything in my mouth." Corydon Cochran, 50, of Cabot, who was released after serving time for driving under the influence and unlawful trespass, claims his share of chicken didn’t appear tainted, but he felt sick to his stomach after learning of Butts’ experience. Henry "Hank" Butson, 60, who was sentenced in 2004 to 25 years to life for killing his former girlfriend and her lover, alleges his portion of chicken tasted strange, "like a whole clam taste and texture," he wrote in a court document.

Butson and Cochran say they suffered emotional distress but admitted in court Thursday they did not become ill as a result of their chicken consumption. "Frankly, the only injury you sustained was a phobia of seeing chicken?" ConAgra attorney Gary Stewart asked Butson, who testified via speaker phone from Kentucky.

The incident occurred in November 2005, when the men were incarcerated at the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Ky., with other inmates Vermont sends out of state to ease prison crowding. Butts said he paid $5.37 at the prison store for a package of Banquet frozen chicken pieces, according to court papers. Sessions previously granted ConAgra’s request to prevent the men from seeking punitive damages — a financial award meant to punish a defendant for intentional misconduct — after the convicts said during pretrial proceedings they had no indication the company acted willfully. They had asked for millions of dollars.

The men sought to admit into evidence the questionable chicken piece, which they claimed they had preserved over the years and brought to court in a paper bag, but Sessions, saying others had handled the meat, wouldn’t allow it.