Legal Roundup: Court Overturns Michael Jackson Case, Businesses Sue Over Stay-at-Home and More

The latest court decisions involving risk management and the insurance industry. 
By: | May 8, 2020

Judge Dismisses Coronavirus Protection Suit Against Meat Processing Plant 

The Case: Workers at a Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Missouri sued their employer for allegedly not doing enough to protect them from COVID-19.

One worker explained the suit in a Washington Post op-ed: “To keep up with the speed of the line, workers stand so closely together that they can easily be cut by the person next to them. It was a dangerous, hard job every day before the coronavirus. … I know of at least eight workers at my plant who have stayed home because they had symptoms of the coronavirus — even though losing a day’s wages is devastating for us, and even though, as my lawsuit says, Smithfield is still disciplining workers who miss a scheduled shift.”

Scorecard: The case was dismissed by a federal judge who claimed that federal government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were better suited to oversee working conditions.

NBC News reports: “Smithfield is already taking many of the steps called for by the Rural Community Workers Alliance, including screening production-line workers for symptoms and installing barriers between them, District Judge Greg Kays in Kansas City, Missouri, said in his ruling on Tuesday.” 

Takeaway: Meatpacking plants have become hotspots for COVID-19 outbreaks. Some have been forced to close and others can’t seem to get food to grocers and restaurants before they spoil — leading to food shortages.

Wendy’s, for example, had no burgers on the menu at hundreds of locations.

Expect cases against meat processing plants to continue in the wake of the pandemic.

In Dallas, for example, Blanca Esther Parra sued Quality Sausage Co. on behalf of her husband Hugo Dominguez, who died of the virus. She claimed that the company refused to take the virus seriously and didn’t take proper precautions.

Appeals Court Overturns Verdict in Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson Case

The Case: Music producer Quincy Jones sued the estate of Michael Jackson, claiming he was not paid royalties for music used in the documentary film This is It and two shows by Cirque du Soleil. (Jones produced Jackson’s smash hit albums Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad, as well as lots of other hit albums).

A 2017 jury awarded Jones $9.4 million in royalties and fees — and the case then went to an appeals court in California.

Scorecard: The 2nd District Court of Appeal in California ruled that the original jury misinterpreted the contract. It removed $6.9 million of the settlement originally awarded to Jones.

The Associated Press reports: “The appeals court found that the jury wrongly granted Jones money from licensing fees, wrongly went beyond the 10% royalty rate Jones was owed for record sales, and incorrectly granted Jones money for remixes of Jackson’s master recordings.”

The court did affirm $2.5 million awarded to Jones for music used in This Is It, a documentary film showing Jackson preparing for a series of London concerts that never happened because of his untimely death at age 50.

Takeaway: The case centered around the term “videoshow.” The contract says Jones should be paid for “videoshow” performances, according to news reports.

The Jackson estate said that language extends to music videos only, while Jones said it extended to a feature film like This Is It.

Johnson & Johnson Settles Pelvic Mesh Lawsuit for $3.9 Million

The Case: In 2002, the FDA approved the use of pelvic mesh to help women with pelvic collapse.

But after a flood of injuries and complaints, the FDA issued warnings and eventually classified the procedure as high-risk.

Among the lawsuits that resulted was one pitting West Virginia against Johnson & Johnson, claiming the company’s marketing efforts “misrepresented the risks and effectiveness of the medical implant,” according to the Associated Press.

It reported that “several major manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, had previously stopped making the implants.”

Scorecard: Johnson & Johnson settled the case for $3.9 million.

Takeaway: The case follows a slew of similar lawsuits against the company for the pelvic mesh procedure.

The Associated Press reports: “In January, a judge in San Diego ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay nearly $344 million in penalties over the marketing of the pelvic mesh devices in a lawsuit brought by California. The company in October also agreed to a $117 million settlement involving similar allegations with 41 other states and the District of Columbia.”

Business Owners, Religious Leaders Sue Over Stay-At-Home Orders

The Case: A group of business owners and religious leaders have sued Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan over stay-at-home orders enacted to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington Post reports: “The lawsuit asks a federal judge to intervene to block Hogan’s restrictions on certain businesses and religious gatherings, and presses the state to consider less restrictive alternatives.”

Hogan said he is still not considering lifting the order “until the state sees either a consistent plateau or downward trend in hospitalizations,” the Washington Post reported.

Scorecard: The case has just recently been filed. It not only has legal implications but political ones as well, as voters could use the freedom cry as a rallying point in future elections.

Takeaway: Similar sentiment for re-opening has grown around the country and it’s leading to more lawsuits.

In Michigan, for example, a group of churches sued Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, claiming that stay-at-home restrictions impeded religious freedom.

In Idaho, three residents sued to challenge statewide restrictions claiming infringements on religious freedom. &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected].

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