Lawsuit alleges man harmed at slaughterhouse
MINNEAPOLIS - An Austin man is suing Hormel Foods Corp. and Quality Pork Processors Inc., saying he was harmed because of a machine used to extract pig brains at a plant where several employees became sick with a mysterious neurological illness.
The lawsuit, filed in Mower County District Court in November, was first reported by the Post-Bulletin of Rochester this week. It seeks more than $50,000 in damages from each company.
The complaint is vague on several key points, which prompted Hormel's attorneys to ask the court last month to order Dale Kinney and his attorney to file a more definitive statement of their claims.
Quality Pork is a privately owned supplier to Hormel. At least 18 workers at Quality Pork's Austin plant have suffered symptoms of the neurological illness, which was announced by health officials in December 2007. Many of them filed workers compensation claims.
Investigators from the Mayo Clinic and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said they believe some pig brain tissue was turned into a fine mist during the harvesting process, that the workers became exposed to it and they somehow developed an autoimmune response that caused nerve damage. They gave the condition a name, progressive inflammatory neuropathy. That investigation is continuing.
It's not clear, Hormel's lawyers argued, what Kinney was doing at the plant around the time he says he was harmed. In a court filing, they said Kinney is not a current or former Hormel or Quality Pork employee. They said it's not also clear how Kinney might have come in contact with the compressed air device formerly used there to remove pig brains from skulls. And they said he also failed to state in his complaint why he believes Hormel was responsible for his alleged injuries.
"Absent a more definitive statement explaining the grounds on which Plaintiff's claims allegedly rest, Hormel cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading denying or admitting plaintiff's allegations," they wrote in a motion filed Dec. 11.
Kinney's attorney, Paul Dahlberg, said Thursday he had no comment on the case. But in a response to the court, he wrote that Hormel "owns or controls the premises ... and the product which was defective and caused the dangerous condition to those exposed."
"For Hormel to claim it cannot make out what the Complaint is trying to say is absurd," he wrote.
Kinney does not have a listed phone number in Austin and could not be reached for comment. Hormel spokeswoman Julie Craven said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation. Quality Pork President Kelly Wadding did not immediately return a phone message left with his assistant. Court personnel said their records don't show who is representing Quality Pork.
In the lawsuit, Kinney alleges he was "severely injured" on or before April 20, 2007, as a result of defects in the compressed air device, which he asserts was manufactured by Hormel and/or Quality Pork. While it doesn't say how he was harmed, it said he suffered injuries to his "mind and body," some of which are permanent, that he's lost earnings, that his earning capacity has been reduced, and that he has incurred and will continue to incur medical expenses as a result of what happened.