Mo. jury awards neighbors $1.95M in hog lawsuit

CLINTON (AP) — A southwest Missouri jury has awarded a total of about $1.95 million to 12 plaintiffs who claimed odors from a factory hog farm ruined their way of life.

The Barton County jury announced its verdict Saturday after a two-week trial. Iowa-based Synergy, which owned the hogs, and Kenoma, the local company that raised them, are liable for damages.

Kansas City attorney Charlie Speer had asked the jury in closing arguments to award $1 million in damages to each plaintiff. He also asked for punitive damages, but none were awarded.

Eldon McAfee, a lawyer for Synergy, said Monday that the company was disappointed with the jury’s decision and was considering an appeal.

According to instructions from Circuit Judge James Journey, nine or more members of the jury had to agree before any damages could be awarded. Journey told the jurors that “odors, flies or other emissions” had to “substantially impair” the plaintiffs’ use of their properties before they could award damages.

Journey told the jurors that if they found substantial impairment, the defendants could be liable for punitive damages if the defendants showed an “evil motive” or “reckless indifference.”

The jury found that one of the defendants, Paul Stefan, a Barton County resident who permitted the dispersal of hog waste on land he owns near the plaintiffs, would not pay any damages.

The jury awarded $225,000 each to Zach and Debbie Mcguire, and Darvin and Tish Bentlage; $350,000 to Gregory Harris; $175,000 each to Carol Huber, Dale Huber, and Kevin Huber; $75,000 each to Walter Howrey and Cindy Howrey; and $25,000 each to Helen Manke and the estate of her late husband, William Manke.

On Thursday, the jury boarded a bus to tour the Synergy-Kenoma operations in Barton County and see how close the plaintiffs’ homes were to those operations.

Richard Middleton, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said Synergy’s Barton County operation produced 200,000 hogs annually and millions of tons of waste.

“They are responsible for the harms and losses that they have caused these plaintiffs,” Middleton said in closing arguments.

Synergy attorney Mark Feldman told the jury he hoped the bus tour was helpful in showing the agricultural character of Barton County and that “raising pigs is not something that is foreign to the county.”

He said the tour should have shown the plaintiffs live miles away from the hog barns operated by Kenoma and that what Middleton called a “factory farm complex” was spread over 7.5 square miles.

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