RALEIGH, N.C. – Smithfield Foods lost a fifth lawsuit claiming the company’s subsidiary, Murphy-Brown, is responsible for nuisances caused by odors from neighboring hog farms. Smithfield plans to appeal the ruling to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
“These lawsuits are an abuse of our legal system, one that bypasses decisions made by lawmakers and regulators,” said Smithfield spokeswoman, Keira Lombardo, in a statement. “As with the first three trials, the negative result is due in large measure to rulings by the court that our attorneys believe are incorrect. These errors skewed the evidence presented in favor of plaintiffs and prejudiced our ability to defend the case, our company, our industry, family farmers and all agriculture.”
The jury also imposed a penalty of $420,000, much less than previous compensation awarded in other nuisance lawsuits filed against Murphy-Brown in order to comply with state caps on punitive damages. In June 2018, a jury awarded plaintiffs Elvis and Vonnie Williams $65,000 each in compensatory damages and $12.5 million in punitive damages each for nuisances such as waste lagoon odors, flies and noise from truck traffic. In April, a federal jury awarded 10 plaintiffs living near a North Carolina contract farm where hogs are being raised for Smithfield received $750,000 in compensation in addition to more than $50 million in punitive damages. The judge in the case reduced the punitive damages to $250,000 per plaintiff to align with the state’s caps on punitive damages. The award to the Williamses also is likely to be reduced.
A federal judge has both sides alternate who picks cases for juries to hear.
Recently, organizations representing agriculture industry interests filed amicus briefs with the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals urging the court to reverse the $50 million judgment. Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive of the North American Meat Institute, said, “That a court would allow punitive damages to be awarded against a company operating within its permit puts not only agricultural operations at risk, it puts any industry in North Carolina at risk for nuisance liability and punitive damages.”
Lombardo noted, “Our appeals of the results of the first two trials are progressing in the 4th Circuit. Our first appellate brief was filed with the 4th Circuit last week. And, our attorneys have filed post-trial motions asking the trial court to vacate the judgment from the third trial. As soon as those motions are decided, our appeal of that result will also progress in the 4th Circuit.”