Families in tainted-meat case begin receiving settlements
Sky-Hi Daily News
A two-year lawsuit over 4-H meat purchased at the 2005 Grand County fair has recently been settled in favor of the families involved.
Last Tuesday at the board of county commissioners meeting, County Attorney Jack DiCola announced that the litigation was settled.
The meat debacle began at the 4-H Junior Livestock Sale two years ago at the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo, where 10 animals were auctioned off to the highest bidders.
There, Wendy and Bill Thompson purchased two lambs, a 1,200-pound steer and another steer with a friend.
This champion meat would become the staple of many meals to come.
But when it came back from the meat packing plant, Wendy tried it immediately and noticed something wasn’t quite right with it. The taste and smell of the meat were off.
Meanwhile, Mountain Parks Electric was receiving phone calls from winners of a drawing held at the cooperative’s annual member’s meeting. Prize meat was delivered to those who won, meat from steers purchased at the same livestock sale.
But when winners opened the packages of steaks, “they could tell it was discolored, and parts they did cook had a bad taste,” said Tom Sifers, Mountain Parks Electric’s assistant general manager.
Kittie Docheff, whose family had also purchased a steer at the show, was going through the same disappointment.
Upon opening the first package of the frozen meat, then thawing it, Docheff knew something was wrong.
“It was stinking to high heaven, and it was slimy,” she said. “You knew it was bad just by touching it, smelling it and looking at it.”
There was some unspoiled hamburger, she said, but steaks, roasts ” all were bad.
“You’d pull it out thinking you had dinner that night and you didn’t,” she said. “It was aggravating.”
The Docheffs contacted the meat plant.
“The only thing they offered to do was have it tested,” she said.
Her family ended up throwing their entire champion steer away.
The Thompsons called up the meat-packing plant right away where all 10 animals purchased at the livestock sale had been processed.
At first, the owner told them “sometimes bovine synovial fluid might get on meat and make it taste bad,” Wendy said.
But that didn’t fly with the Thompsons. They packed up all of the cuts and headed to Fort Collins where The Meat Plant was located.
“We took the meat down to him and said, ‘here, smell this,'” Wendy said.
The owner, who according to court documents is Dale Brown, then tried to make it right. Since some of the meat was fine, each frozen cut had to be examined, then repackaged.
The lambs they had purchased at the sale were not spoiled, and neither was the other half of the steer they had purchased with a friend.
In an attempt to make good, Brown replaced the Thompson’s bad meat with a steer he had purchased. Granted, it wasn’t the champion steer the Thompson’s originally had, “but it wasn’t rotten,” Wendy said. “It wasn’t the best meat, but it was edible.”
The USDA-inspected plant was having problems with its quick freeze freezer, according to the Extension Office, and the problem was serious enough to become the demise of the business.
From her experience trying to contact the owner, “Dale Brown didn’t spend a lot of time at his business,” Wendy said.
She knows of even more families outside the livestock sale who had lost money due to The Meat Plant’s broken freezer, she said.
Most of the people who had purchased animals at the county fair, paying an average of $3,500 per animal ” only to end up with rotten meat ” began contacting the extension office and the junior livestock sale committee, which in turn, contacted the meat plant.
“We sent the meat to be tested, and the owner said he’d cover the cost of the meat testing, but then we lost contact after that. He kept promising and not delivering. He basically gave us the run-around,” said Extension Office Director Brenda Kwang.
The Junior Livestock Sale committee contacted the county, which offered its legal department to pursue litigation.
“It was an expensive thing, and the county helped to step up and fight that battle for us and file a lawsuit against the plant,” Kwang said.
The county filed the suit in District Court in August 2006.
But according to documents, when the owner of The Meat Plant ignored requests about his assets and income, the court granted an order for him to answer the interrogatories or explain why he shouldn’t. The deadline was set for January.
By Jan. 16, the meat plant owner still had not responded, and by the following May, the owner had not only been served a contempt citation but had failed to appear in court. The court issued an arrest warrant, with the bond set at $20,567, cash only; incidentally the amount that was owed to the eight families who took part in the lawsuit.
The cash bond was ultimately used to satisfy the debt, meaning the bond was released to the county in October to pay the families the full amount each had paid for their steer.
Families are just finding out now.
“They’re excited about it, everyone thinks it’s good news,” Kwang said.
Mountain Parks Electric had bought a replacement 4-H steer the following year to give to the contestants of its 2005 annual meeting drawing. Sifers indicated he was pleased that they were going to be getting money back for the original steer.
“We’re not the only ones that had problems with it,” Kwang said. “Several individuals and several counties also had problems with that meat plant.”
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