Jury awards $11 million over P.S.F. hog-farm odors

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, MO. — More than $11 million has been awarded by a jury to 15 plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the odors from a Premium Standard Farms (P.S.F.) hog operation in northern Missouri, according to The Associated Press.

Thursday's awards included $825,000 for each of 13 plaintiffs, said a spokeswoman for Jackson County Circuit Court. A 14th plaintiff was awarded $250,000, and the 15th got $75,000.

Approximately 200,000 hogs a year are produced by P.S.F., a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, at the operation 80 miles north of Kansas City.

Plaintiffs in the case complained they couldn't enjoy their property because of the smells, while P.S.F. argued the smells are a normal part of life in an agricultural area.

In a statement Premium Standard Farms LLC  issued on March 4 in response to the jury’s verdict in the case of Owens, et al v. ContiGroup Companies Inc., et al, the company said: “We are obviously disappointed in today's verdict; however, we believe that there are substantial grounds for reversal on appeal.”

The court gave the jury “the impossible task” of sorting through claims by 15 different individuals from seven different families in different locations with each claim raising a set of distinctive issues, the statement added. “While the jury tried its best, it was inevitable that this ‘gang trial’ would result in a ‘gang verdict.’ We will ask the appellate court to require that each family’s claim against a specific farm be litigated separately. That is the only way the parties can be assured of a fair trial,” the statement continued.

While P.S.F. said it is disappointed the jury awarded compensatory damages, it was pleased the jury found no grounds for punitive damages. “We believe that the verdict indicates recognition on the part of the jury of the substantial efforts we have made toward odor abatement,” the statement said. “In light of this decision and in view of the continuing hostile environment toward live hog production, we have serious concerns whether we will ever make any future investments in the state of Missouri. It threatens the viability of the Missouri farm economy when a farm that has been granted a permit to operate by the state and is in compliance with the permit and state and federal regulations, can be held liable for such damages.

“If it is indeed the law in Missouri that a permitted farm in compliance with its permit can be subject to such damages, then to preserve its agribusiness sector the legislature should move swiftly to correct this aberration,” the statement concluded.

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