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Mo. jury rules for hog farm owner in odor lawsuit

Mo. jury rules for hog farm owner in odor lawsuit

June 24th, 2011 by MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER, Associated Press in News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Weeks after a jury ordered a corporate hog farm to pay a dozen Missouri residents $2 million because of its foul smell, another jury rejected a farmer's claims in a similar case.

Vernon Hanes had sought $3 million, saying odors from a Premium Standard Farms hog farm in Daviess County damaged his use and enjoyment of his Daviess County property in northwest Missouri. But a jury in DeKalb County, where the case was moved, voted 9-3 Wednesday in favor of PSF.

The verdict followed a May decision by southwest Missouri jury awarding $2 million to about a dozen plaintiffs who claimed odors from a nearby hog farm owned by Iowa-based Synergy had ruined their way of life.

It also came about a month after Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law a measure limiting how much money people can win in certain lawsuits against farms and livestock producers. The law also aims to prevent neighbors from filing repeated nuisance claims for the same problems on the same farm.

The legislation limits compensatory damages to the amount of rent owners of neighboring properties would lose because of a "temporary nuisance" created by a farm or the amount by which the property's fair market value would drop if a "permanent nuisance" exited. It also requires that subsequent nuisance lawsuits involving the same properties and problems be treated as "permanent nuisance" claims in court.

Premium Standard Farms said last year that it might be forced to leave the state if it continued to be targeted by nuisance lawsuits that have already resulted in multiple multimillion-dollar awards against the company. In one case, a jury awarded $11 million to a group of 15 northwest Missouri residents.

Jean Paul Bradshaw, a lawyer for Premium Standard Farms, said the DeKalb County verdict was a victory for the company, which still has about a dozen other lawsuits pending against it.

"Every case is different, but much of the evidence is the same," Bradshaw said Thursday. "It does bode well. It shows that ... we've made some significant improvements."

Bradshaw said PSF has taken steps to cut down on odors at its sites. The Princeton-based company has about 97,000 sows that will produce about 1.8 million market hogs throughout its locations in six Missouri counties.

Charlie Speer, Hanes' lawyer, said Thursday he was disappointed with the DeKalb County verdict, but he remained confident in other cases he has pending against the company.

"These cases just come down to the facts of the individual plaintiffs," he said. "The jury just felt like his use and enjoyment had not been substantially impaired."

Speer also he planned to challenge Missouri's new farm lawsuit legislation, which he said takes away one's "right to breathe fresh air."

"We think it has a good chance of getting overturned," he said.