A Jackson County, Missouri jury awarded $11 million today to neighboring farmers who sued a factory farm operation saying hog odors were so bad they couldn’t go outside. The jury returned the verdict against industrial hog producers Premium Standard Farms, Inc. (“Premium Standard”), a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods SFD, and the privately held ContiGroup Companies. The verdict, covering 11 years of damages, is the largest monetary award against a hog farm in an odor nuisance case. The Middleton Firm, Seeger Weiss LLP and the Speer Law Firm represented the seven households, who filed their case in 2002. Plaintiffs, some of whom have owned their farms for well over 100 years and spanning five generations, alleged that relentless and extreme odors emanating from Defendants’ finishing farm – known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs – created an unreasonable nuisance.
In the early 1990s, Premium Standard bought and leased some 4,300 acres in the community of Berlin, Missouri, to create a “finishing farm,” processing an estimated 200,000 hogs per year. The hogs excrete waste into a slatted floor, which collects in basins beneath each barn, where it is evacuated through a piped flushing system that deposits it in four-to-five acre lagoons located across the property. Collectively, the lake-sized lagoons collect some 83 million gallons of hog waste during the course of a year – generating enormous quantities of methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that can be detected for miles.
Premium Standard has now lost three of four jury trials brought by one attorney and his clients. Those awards against Premium Standard now total almost $21 million. In the current lawsuit, the Plaintiffs said Premium Standard had failed to clean up the odors in 11 years even though the company was under orders by the Missouri Attorney General. “The odors and flies coming off this farm have devastated the lives of these fine Missouri citizens. For them, it’s been a living torment. The families who brought this case have been living under a toxic cloud of hog waste produced by Premium Standard for more than 11 years,” said lead trial counsel Richard H. Middleton, Jr. of Savannah, Georgia. Premium Standard Farms said it would appeal the verdict.
These cases are being filed around the country. John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section, is currently investigating and handling these types of nuisance cases. If you want more information, contact John at 800-898-2034 or by email at John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com.
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