We have defended and prosecuted food safety and quality claims on behalf of the food industry for over 15 years. Although we have handled numerous cases which required trial, the vast majority of the claims asserted (whether memorialized in correspondence or commenced in litigation) ended with a negotiated settlement. Throughout this period, in most cases, an early mediation was the most appropriate route to the most efficient, inexpensive and fair resolution.
There can be no mistake that, when dealing with the production of food, things sometimes can and do go wrong. On occasion, despite best efforts, food safety or quality issues arise, and the products at issue may need to be diverted to alternative uses, withdrawn from the market or formally recalled. These decisions may be triggered by an emerging foodborne illness outbreak, or an attempt to avoid one. In other cases, these decisions may be driven by commercial factors.
Regardless of the cause, whenever such issues arise, people’s lives can be substantially impacted. The impacts can range from a family watching a loved one struggle to recover from a serious foodborne illness to a company that can no longer afford to pay its workers because of a massive recall of products contaminated by ingredients received from its supplier. In many of these cases, the facts and circumstances surrounding the events leading to the failure are often quite clear, and only a determination (informed by the relative risks shouldered by each of the parties) as to the appropriate amount of settlement is required.
In many cases, early mediation will prove to be ineffective if the mediator the parties select does not have a basic understanding of food science and the food industry. If, however, the mediator is well versed in food safety and quality issues, he or she can intelligently help guide the parties in a way that fairly identifies their relative risks (all parties always bear at least some risk), and then facilitate a discussion to overcome the parties’ differences and find common ground. Under the right circumstances, and with the right mediator, even highly complex food safety and quality claims can be resolved within weeks or months after an incident, long before expensive litigation and discovery is required. Once lawsuits are files, nobody wins.
Thus, if you are defending or prosecuting a threatened or actual food safety or quality claim, consider mediating the case early to avoid the negative consequences of prolonged or continued litigation. With the right mediator, you’d be surprised how quickly easily your case can get resolved.