Food business clients frequently want to ensure that they have sufficient liability limits in the event of an outbreak (they also want to make sure they have adequate coverage, but this is a separate discussion). Determining the amount of a business’s limits depends on the business’s possible exposures. No one-size-fits-all formula is available. Every business should have a yearly conversation with its counsel and broker to determine what makes sense.
Disclaimers aside, a few pieces of recent news should help inform the discussion of liability limits:
First, we’ve learned more about the food-borne illness claims filed in the peanut outbreak earlier this year. Here’s a complete list of the claims (personal injury, commercial, etc.) asserted in the PCA bankruptcy and a newspaper article about them. Most of the claims appear to be filed by Marler Clark, though other food-borne illness claims also appear. So far, I count about 100 claims filed in the PCA bankruptcy (out of a CDC-reported 714 illnesses). Of those claims, at least eight resulted in deaths. The death claims are valued by the plaintiffs’ at $10 million each. The nondeath claims are valued at up to $1 million each. Total personal injury claims are approximately $150 million. Plaintiffs have probably overstated their claims, but given the national outrage against PCA, a jury might lend credibility to the bloated values and award larger sums.
The other recent news is that CDC has released some interesting statistics about food-borne illnesses. For 2006, leafy vegetables and fruits/nuts accounted for the largest number of reported cases of food-borne illness (33%). Produce and nut products that might not have been associated in the past with food-borne illness (and, therefore, liability exposure) are now frequently associated with outbreaks. As exemplified by the PCA situation, claims from a national or even a regional outbreak from produce or nuts can easily exceed $100 million.