Via America’s Lawyer: As meat processing plants nationwide are shutting down due to surging stockpiles of goods and fears of contamination, news has surfaced of employees at Smithfield and Tyson’s plants being forced to work without proper protective gear. Mike Papantonio and Farron Cousins discuss. Then, Top Class Actions president Scott Hardy joins Mike Papantonio to explain how insurance companies are wiggling their way out of covering swaths of businesses decimated by the pandemic.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio: Huge clusters of workers have become sick with COVID-19 at meat processing plants in the United States because some of the largest corporate food processors failed to implement any kind of safety precautions for workers. Joining me to talk about this is Farron Cousins, editor of the trial lawyer magazine. You know, as I look at this story, worst yet as I look at the graphics here. I don’t want to eat meat. But, you know, this story really, I think we’re going to survive even without meat for awhile. People have alternative protein. But the thing that bothers me about this is it just got so little attention. You know, these workers were going in without any protection. They’re, they’re working four feet apart, basically no protection at all. The sound is so loud in there that to talk, they have to get face to face, ear to ear, whatever. It just screamed out for problems, especially when people started leaving and not coming back because they couldn’t come back. They were sick.

Farron Cousins: Right, and one of the things we’re finding out now too is that the management at many of these plants, Tyson foods, JBS foods, and Smithfield actually encouraged workers, even if you’re sick, you still have to come in. We’re a vital part of the economy, a vital part of the food chain, they said. So even if you’re sick, if you’re showing symptoms, we still want you to come in. One employee described it as unless you were in a casket, they expected you to show up to work the next day.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. It was their, they call it their work, their work while sick policy.

Farron Cousins: Right.

Mike Papantonio: They actually had a policy, the work while sick policy. You know, I can’t, I can’t avoid the irony here. This is crazy. Smithfield as you know, the biggest meat packer in the, maybe in the world is owned by the Chinese doing business right here in the United States. So Smithfield probably had some of the worst policies across the board and Smithfield of all of them had every reason to know very early something was getting to, getting ready to happen. But they provided no masks. They provided no gloves. They provided no separation because they just, I guess they look at these people as being expendable, thousands of these people working in the same plant.

Farron Cousins: Right, and they do view them as expendable. I mean, we’ve seen this, you know, for, for all kinds of different corporations. The workers come and go, you know, if somebody drops dead on the assembly line, you simply replace that person. You know, it goes back to the old asbestos memo, if you’ve had a great life working in asbestos why not die from it.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah.

Farron Cousins: And that corporate mentality has not changed in over a hundred years at this point. So what we’ve had with these workers, in addition to being told, come in sick, we had the, the businesses themselves, Smithfield, JBS, Tyson told the federal government told OSHA, okay, we’re going to implement these new standards. And the new standards are you have to wear a mask, you have to do the social distancing and then according to the workers, it took weeks after they promised OSHA everything was going to be okay before the masks showed up. It took weeks before they were actually told to distance themselves from one another at least six feet. So the corporation tries to tell the government, listen, we’re doing everything right. We’ve made these new policies. But the workers are saying, they may have told you they made these policies, but they never implemented them until of course it was too late. They didn’t get their masks at many of these plants it told about a week and a half ago.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. So right now, more than 3000 of them are sick. The workers are sick. More than 20 are dead. And so the, the point is this, it’s worker’s compensation. You see, that’s different from being able to sue the corporation. That worker, their only relief generally is going to be through workers’ compensation. So a, a corporation can make an assessment. How much does this worker compensation, how much it’s going to cost us if we lose Joe over here because he’s got coronavirus? They, you know, they do the, they do the math and when they do the math they say, well we’re going to do a lot better just business as usual. Joe’s not going to be that expensive because it’s worker’s compensation. No big deal.

Farron Cousins: Well, and you’ve got the Trump administration right now and Mitch McConnell, as of yesterday morning, announced he was going to be working on this as well, trying to come up with some kind of immunity for corporations so that when they have outbreaks like this, you can’t sue them at all. And what that’s gonna lead to is that’s going to lead to even fewer safety precautions. They’re going to think, well, we don’t have to protect our workers because we’re immune now. It’s going to be this horrid slippery slope of mass infection.

Mike Papantonio: Businesses that are suffering from the statewide stay at home orders are quickly learning that their insurance policies aren’t covering the economic slowdown even though they were supposed to. Joining me to talk about this is Scott Hardy, the president of class, top class actions. Scott, you know, you have your pulse on exactly what’s going on around the country. The first time we started getting calls at our law firm where you’d have a business an entire chain business, you know, large chains calling us and saying, we have this business policy and they’re telling us there’s no coverage. And then we look at the policy and there’s clearly coverage, clearly coverage. Tell us what business interruption insurance is and what’s happening with this right now during the shutdown.

Scott Hardy: Sure. So business continuity insurance, business interruption insurance is to cover these businesses if they’re shut down due to a natural disaster, like a hurricane, a fire, or a pandemic. And so when these businesses are shut down, this insurance is supposed to cover their payroll. It’s supposed to actually cover their income, even pay for their loans, pay for their rent. So from the time that they’re shut down to the time that they open back up, they have money to cover their business and pay everybody. So that way, you know, they don’t go bankrupt.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Okay. So here’s the, here’s what we’re seeing already, and tell me if this is consistent with what you’re seeing out there. We’ll look at a policy and the policy will say, it’ll be, it’ll be all coverage policy. There, there’ll be no question. There’s, they’re not even making exceptions. They’re saying this is an all risk policy. But then they’re telling, they’re telling the folks that make the demand, who’ve been paying outrageous amounts for the insurance companies for decades, they’re telling them, oh no, no, we didn’t mean that. It’s not what it means. You’re going to have to fight it out. We see that and then we see policies where they say that, well, we’re, there is a clause here that says that we’re going to exclude loss for bacteria. We see that a lot. But they don’t put in there bacteria and virus. A virus is a pathogen. It’s very different. The pathogen you should have coverage for and so they have these talking points that they’re telling everybody to discourage them from making these, these types of claims. Are you seeing that same thing?

Scott Hardy: Yes, we are. Just like you, we’ve received thousands of submissions from business owners around the country that are suffering the exact same problem where they been paying for this insurance. A friend of mine called me on the day he was shut down and said, Scott, hey, I’ve been paying for this insurance for years. I finally say, great. It’s finally, I’m going to use it. He calls his insurance agent says, hey buddy, we’ve been friends for years, been paying you. I need this to pay out and his insurance said, oh, sorry, yeah, submit your claim. But we’re just denying everything.

Mike Papantonio: Well, Okay. Add to that.

Scott Hardy: And so, as you said, when you look at these insurance.

Mike Papantonio: Go ahead. Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Scott Hardy: So when you look at these insurance policies, it’s just like you said, it’s, it’s very cut and dry from, it’s if my business is shut down due to something beyond my control, like a natural disaster, I should have be covered for my expenses to be able to pay my payroll and still have that income come in. So once things are not shut down and things opened back up, I can get paid. But insurance companies after the SARS outbreak and H1N1 tried to add some clauses in there so they wouldn’t have to pay. Which is what you’re talking about there, right?

Mike Papantonio: Yeah, exactly. So what we’re seeing is, always make the assumption for, even if you’ve got a different issue here, if you’re watching this program and you have coverage that they’re denying, understand, there’s a couple of issues that you need to be aware of. One of it, one of them is that the civil authority issue where the civil, where the government has said, you must shut down because of a public health crisis. That should be something that you consider when you make your claim. That should work, it should work to your advantage. The second thing is, is as this, as this litigation develops, you’re going to find that there’s going to be interpretations of these policies that are going to be widely varied. You’re going to have some courts that are going to always rule for the insurance companies. Some that are going to say, look, you know, if I look at this, if I look at this, we just have to find if we weigh everything, we certainly should weigh in favor of the business’s been paying all this money for coverage. What are you telling, what are the attorneys that, that you’re working with, what are they telling people right now, Scott, about how to proceed?

Scott Hardy: They’re saying, submit those claims. Get those denial letters, send those denial letters, send your claim policies into the attorneys. They need to review those because just like you said, there’s going to be a lot of different ways that they’re attacking this. You know, and the insurance companies are sitting there and saying, hey, we can’t afford to pay out all these claims. But in 2018 they took in $1.2 trillion in payments and after paying all their operating expenses, paying on all the claims, these insurance companies still cleared a $60 billion profit in 2018. So how can they not have money to pay these small business owners that are trying to get 50,000 bucks, $25,000 just to stay open?

Mike Papantonio: Yeah, yeah. We’ve got. Right. We have to go. But I’ll tell you this, we saw the same thing with hurricane loss. We saw the same thing with BP loss here on the, on the Gulf coast. It’s the same game they play all the time. Don’t give up. If you have a policy, do not give up. Hire an attorney who knows what they’re talking about, who will jump in and fight for you. Thanks for, thanks for joining me, Scott. Okay.

Scott Hardy: Thank you for your time, Pap. I appreciate it.

Mike Papantonio: Finally tonight, some good news. A federal court last week ruled that the environmental protection agency can’t continue to ignore toxins being released from paper and pulp mills when they set emission rules. The EPA is required to review emissions from corporations every eight years and then to use those set, to set limits on what’s acceptable and what’s not. But ever since that rule was established in 2001 the EPA has never factored in emissions from these pulp mills. These pulp mills are dangerous. They put out dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals like dioxin and mercury right into the nearby environment and for nearly 20 years, the federal government’s been pretending that these emissions don’t exist at all.

But thanks to the last week’s ruling, these dangerous toxins must be counted. Longterm exposure to mercury has been linked to abnormal brain functions and structural changes to the brain that can lead to permanent disastrous alterations in personality. Exposure to dioxin, even in low amounts, can severely disrupt the endocrine system, alter hormones and destroy a person’s reproductive system. And these are just a few of the many adverse effects that these chemicals have on the body. Last week’s ruling might be a couple of decades too late, but it could prevent severe health problems in the future. Maybe that’s good news. Maybe that’s the best we can expect these days.

That’s all for tonight. Find us on Twitter and at Facebook You can watch all RT America programs on Direct TV, Channel 321 and also stream them live on YouTube. Be sure to check out RT’s new portable app where you can watch all your shows, anything you want to watch on that app. I’m Mike Papantonio and this is America’s Lawyer, where every week we give you the stories that corporate media is ordered not to tell because of their political connections like you heard tonight, and because their advertisers won’t let them. Have a great night.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.