agriculture

BREAKING: Neighbors 2, Murphy-Brown 0: Jury awards plaintiffs $25 million in hog nuisance suit

Duplin County, human population 58,000, hog population 2 million. The Joey Carter farm, whose hogs are owned by Murphy-Brown, is near Kenansville.

This is a breaking news story. Look for more in-depth analysis of the trial and the significance of the verdict on Monday.

After three days of deliberation, a 12-person federal jury has awarded Elvis and Vonnie Williams more than $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a hog nuisance suit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown/Smithfield.

The Williamses live in Duplin County near a 4,780-head industrialized hog farm. Joey Carter owns the farm, but Murphy-Brown owns the pigs and dictates every aspect of the operation. That includes the waste management system, composed of open-pit lagoons and spray fields, which stink and attract flies, gnats, buzzards, as well as generate dust and truck traffic.

The jury awarded each Williams $65,000 in compensatory damages and $12.5 million apiece in punitive damages. A jury can award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant acted “intentionally, maliciously, or with utter disregard for the rights and interests of the plaintiff.”

Juries also use punitive damages to deter further wrongdoing by the defendant or others.

A state cap on punitive damages, though, limits the amount to no more than $250,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. In this case, the greater amount would be $250,000 each, for a total of $315,000 per plaintiff. The judge is in charge of reducing the amount; state law prevents juries from knowing in advance that there is a cap on punitive damages.

It is expected that Murphy-Brown will appeal to the Fourth Circuit.

This case was considered the defense’s strongest. Per the court, the plaintiffs attorneys and the defense attorneys alternate between choosing the parties for each trial. The plaintiffs’ attorneys at Wallace and Graham in Salisbury chose the parties in the first trial, which ended in a $50 million judgment for the plaintiffs, reduced to $3.25 million. The defense team at McGuireWoods chose the parties in this trial. The trial lasted nearly a month, and was extremely contentious.

At one point, the defense motioned for a mistrial because a juror had informed the court that another juror had seen something on the internet about the NC Farm Act. The Act, which is now law, was written specifically to all but prohibit neighbors from suing industrialized hog farms.

Verdict by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

3 Comments


  1. Margaret Vincent

    June 29, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    This is terrible and all North Carolina residents will be hurt by this verdict. Our towns will become ghost towns in Duplin County. I am so sad for our county. The Williams will need to move to enjoy their money…cause there will be nothing here in Duplin County.

  2. Ellen Dagenhart

    June 30, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Nothing left? How about cleaner air, safer water, a better quality of life? Fewer buzzards & flies? Less truck traffic? Sounds pretty good!

  3. Chairman Cow

    July 4, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Real farmers and decent people hope that this trend spreads into the midwest as well. Much of MN and IA have been ruined by these enormously polluting pig factories. They are ruining our public air, land and water so that the rich can enrich themselves further at the public’s cost.
    Also, this is a Chinese Communist-owned “farm”.

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