Neighbors of a North Carolina hog farm won their nuisance case against a North Carolina pork producer when a federal jury awarded each of the 10 plaintiffs more than $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The verdict form is simple: The first question to the jury was whether Murphy-Brown had “substantially and unreasonably” interfered with the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property. For each of them, the jury answered "yes" and awarded them $75,000 in compensation.
As to whether the company was liable for punitive damages, the jury again answered yes, and awarded each the same amount – $5 million.
The verdict comes after a three-week trial held in the U.S. District of North Carolina’s Eastern District.
Murphy-Brown is owned by Smithfield Foods, which in turn is owned by WH Group Limited, a Chinese company.
During the trial, plaintiffs’ attorneys said that their clients had for years endured foul odors emanating from the nearby operation, which contracts with Murphy-Brown. They said they were prevented from enjoying barbecues and parties on their property and frequently had to shut their windows. They also complained of health problems they blamed on odors related to pork production.
“Plaintiffs have suffered episodes of noxious and sickening odor, onslaughts of flies and pests, nausea, burning and watery eyes, stress, anger, worry, loss of use and enjoyment of their property, inability to comfortably engage in outdoor activities, cookouts, gardening, lawn chores, drifting of odorous mist and spray onto their land, inability to keep windows and doors open, difficulty breathing and numerous other harms,” according to the plaintiffs’ complaint.
“We are pleased with the verdict,” Mona Lisa Wallace of the Wallace and Graham law firm in Salisbury, N.C., said in a statement, as reported by North Carolina Policy Watch. “These cases are about North Carolina family property rights and a clean environment. I am grateful for the hard work of our co-counsel, Mike Kaeske, and the others who worked on this trial. We are now preparing for the next, which is scheduled for the end of May.”
In a statement released shortly after the verdict was announced, Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, said the company was “extremely disappointed” and vowed to appeal to the Fourth Circuit. “We are confident we will prevail,” Lombardo said. “We believe the outcome would have been different if the court had allowed the jury to (1) visit the plaintiffs’ properties and the Kinlaw farm and (2) hear additional vital evidence, especially the results of our expert’s odor-monitoring tests.”
Kinlaw Farm, with 12 buildings that can house up to 15,000 hogs, contracts with Murphy-Brown and collects waste in three open-air lagoons.
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