After years of very little success, lawsuits against factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are gaining traction. There have been some multi-million dollar jury verdicts recently. The mass production of animal and dairy products was in the spotlight recently when a nationwide salmonella outbreak exposed the fact that half a billion eggs were produced by only two Iowa factory farms.
Individuals, families and small farmers living next to factory farms have been suing over noxious odors wafting through their neighborhoods that they claim interfere with the use and enjoyment of their property. In plain English, they claim factory farms “stink.” After mixed success seeking remedies under federal statutes like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, Plaintiffs’ lawyers have turned to nuisance theories. The shift to that argument and the focus on civil damages has breathed new life into these cases.
Fifteen individuals won an $11 million verdict in March under a nuisance theory against Premium Standard Farms, which was the second largest pork producer before Smithfield purchased it in 2007. And in 2006, a Missouri jury awarded $4.5 million to six individuals who sued a factory farm. Nuisance suits have been filed in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Richard Middleton of The Middleton Firm in Savannah, Georgia, and Charles Speer of the Speer law firm in Kansas City, Missouri, are leading the litigation nationally. These two lawyers have devoted their practices to litigation against factory farms and have formed a new Industrial Agriculture Litigation Group for the American Association for Justice.
The concentrated aspect of CAFOs means that thousands of animals are housed in the same operation. Their waste is shoveled into lagoons and later spread onto fields as fertilizer. A number of states, including Alabama, have enacted “right to farm” laws protecting CAFOs.
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