The 10 neighbors that won a nuisance lawsuit against Murphy-Brown over alleged odor complaints from a 15,000 head contract hog facility will not be getting their $50 million, instead they will be dividing up $3.25 million. U.S. District Court Judge Earl Britt ruled Monday to reduce the damages based on a state cap on punitive damages.
Lawyers for Murphy-Brown had called out original media reports of the $50 million verdict, citing a state law and subsequent Supreme Court case that limits punitive damages.
“Punitive damages are limited to the greater of $250,000, or three times the amount of compensatory damages, which in this case were $75,000 per person. This means that each plaintiff should be awarded $325,000, for a total judgment for all 10 plaintiffs of $3,250,000,” said Keira Lombardo, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Smithfield Foods, Inc.
Lombardo said Kinlaw Farm has been in full compliance with its state permit and relevant laws and regulations governing swine operations in North Carolina and is regularly inspected by state environmental officials.
“From the beginning, the lawsuits have been nothing more than a money grab by a big litigation machine. Plaintiffs’ original lawyers promised potential plaintiffs a big payday. Those lawyers were condemned by a North Carolina state court for unethical practices,” Lombardo said. “Plaintiffs’ counsel at trial relied heavily on anti-agriculture, anti-corporate rhetoric rather than the real facts in the case. These practices are abuses of our legal system, and we will continue to fight them.”
The Kinlaw Farm case is one of 26 federal lawsuits filed against the company over waste-management practices.
The North Carolina settlement has caused some Farm Bureaus to take another look at their state laws, regarding Right-to-Farm legislation.
“It is worrisome that a misled jury has set a dangerous precedent that will motivate more greed-driven lawsuits against additional livestock farmers,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “We’re hopeful this verdict will successfully be overturned on appeal.”