In an initial step toward what could be the first wrongful-death suit of its kind, Texas resident Steven Trunnell has filed a petition against Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.
Smithfield is the owner of a massive pig farm in Perote, Mexico, near the village of La Gloria, where the earliest cases of the new H1N1 flu were detected. Trunnell filed the petition in his home state on behalf of his late wife, Judy Dominguez Trunnell, the 33-year-old special-education teacher who on May 4 became the first US resident to die of H1N1 flu.
Trunnell’s petition seeks to investigate claims that the H1N1 outbreak began in Smithfield’s massive pork operation in La Gloria and that the virus may have been caused in part by the conditions under which the farm operates, which the petition terms “horrifically unsanitary.”
If Trunnell ends up following through with a wrongful-death suit against Smithfield Foods, it will most likely make legal history. No one has ever tried to hold a corporation responsible for the inadvertent creation of an infectious disease.
It was brought despite tests by the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture that found that neither the H1N1 virus nor any other viruses were present in the hogs on the La Gloria farm. The farm is a joint venture operated by Smithfield and its Mexican partners.
If Steven Trunnell prevails, he could be awarded up to US$1 billion in damages, and his lawsuit could prompt additional suits by other families who lost family members because of the flu.