A former executive of a peanut company was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in distributing tainted peanut butter back in 2008 and 2009 that made dozens of people seriously ill and killed several others. According to one industry news source reporting on the criminal case, this marked the first time that an executive was prosecuted criminally in a food poisoning case.
Evidently, the prosecution submitted evidence that the executive signed off on shipments of peanut butter that he knew to be tainted. He also submitted fraudulent lab tests, claiming that the product had been tested for salmonella. When investigators conducted an inspection of the facility, they discovered leaking roofs, cockroaches, and evidence of a rodent infestation.
Establishing Civil Liability After a Criminal Prosecution
While the case discussed above was a criminal prosecution, it may have laid the groundwork for the families who were affected by the tainted peanut butter to seek financial compensation through a civil lawsuit. Manufacturers of all products, including food, assume a duty to ensure that the products they sell are reasonably safe. When a product causes an injury to a customer, or tainted food is consumed and results in an illness, the manufacturer may be held liable.