A $33 million verdict awarded to eight neighbors of four Sac County, IA, farms owned by Iowa Select Farms will be contested, says Howard Hill, DVM, chief operating officer.
At press time, post-trial motions were being filed with the court to reverse the verdict and avoid having to appeal the matter, he says.
In the case, a jury awarded $1 million for compensatory damages for loss of property value and enjoyment of property and $32 million in punitive damages.
This is the largest judgment for a livestock nuisance lawsuit in Iowa, and probably in the nation, says Eldon McAfee, Des Moines, IA, attorney for pork producers in an earlier case this year. It's also the first time that punitive damages have been awarded in a livestock nuisance case in Iowa. It is the third livestock nuisance case in Iowa since December 2001, all in hog-dense areas in northern Iowa, he adds.
The award was based on the neighbors' contentions that four hog finishing sites produced offensive odors. Two farms use pits under slat manure storage and two use anaerobic storage and treatment lagoons.
The four Iowa farms were sited, built and operated to meet or exceed all applicable state laws and had no environmental violations, says Hill.
Iowa Select Farms had taken a number of steps to reduce odors before the lawsuit was filed last year. Examples include over-sizing the lagoons, planting trees and adding mechanical surface aeration to the lagoon nearest most of the plantiffs.
The award of punitive damages by the jury ignores the fact that there was never any proof of intentional harm to the neighbors nor their property from the four farms, stresses Hill.
Declares company CEO Jeff Hansen: “We do not believe the award of punitive damages was supported by any evidence or by state law on this issue.”