Jury awards plaintiffs $11 million in hog suit

A Jackson County, Mo., jury awarded more than $11 million on Thursday to plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the odors from a Premium Standard Farms hog operation in northern Missouri.

The awards included $825,000 for each of the 13 plaintiffs. A 14th plaintiff was awarded $250,000, and the 15th got $75,000, according to Mary Jacobi, spokeswoman for the Jackson County Circuit Court.

Premium Standard Farms said in a statement that the company would appeal. The statement said the jury had the "impossible task" of dealing with claims from 15 people.

"While the jury tried its best, it was inevitable that this 'gang trial' would result in a 'gang verdict.' We will ask the appellate court to require that each family's claim against a specific farm be litigated separately," it said.

The statement also said the company was pleased the jury awarded compensatory damages and no punitive damages.

"We believe that the verdict indicates recognition on the part of the jury of the substantial efforts we have made toward odor abatement," the statement said.

Premium Standard produces about 200,000 hogs a year at the operation in Berlin, Mo., 80 miles north of Kansas City. The company argued that the smell is a normal part of life in an agricultural area.

The plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit claimed they couldn't enjoy their property because of the smell. Fourteen of the plaintiffs received $100,000 apiece in a 1999 lawsuit against Premium Standard Farms.

At issue was whether a hog operation that complies with state environmental regulations must meet a different standard when dealing with neighbors.

Premium Standard also said the award gave it "serious concerns" about making future investments in Missouri.

"It threatens the viability of the Missouri farm economy when a farm that has been granted a permit to operate by the state and is in compliance with the permit and state and federal regulations, can be held liable for such damages," the statement said.

Kansas City attorney Charlie Speer, one of two lawyers for the plaintiffs, applauded the award and said it did not preclude the plaintiffs from suing the company again if the odor persists.

"If we sit down and talk, we can include more than money," he told the Associated Press on Thursday. "It's common sense. Nobody wants to live across the street from 80,000 hogs."