Smithfield loses its third hog nuisance case, jury awards plaintiffs $473 million in damages

A photo of inside a hog barn at Greenwood Farms. (Photo from court exhibits)

See today’s story on NC Policy Watch about yesterday’s closing arguments in this case.

A federal jury took just three hours to award six plaintiffs a total of $473 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer.

The jury, which was nearly all white and majority female, awarded each of the neighbors of Greenwood Farms in Pender County $3 million to $5 million each in compensatory damages, even more than the plaintiffs’ attorneys had suggested during yesterday’s closing arguments. The panel tacked on another $75 million in punitive damages for each plaintiff.

The actual award will be less because of a state law capping punitive damages: three times the amount of compensatory or $250,000, whichever is greater. That means even with the cap the total payout could be $94 million.

Ten plaintiffs in the first trial were awarded $50 million, later reduced, and two in the second trial won $25 million. Both amounts were reduced by US District Court Senior Judge Earl Britt.

As with the first and second trials, which Smithfield also lost, the company is expected to appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court.

 

Artis Trial — Jury Verdict — Public by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

The jury returned the verdict while US Rep. David Rouzer and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler were hosting a national roundtable about hog nuisance lawsuits with high-ranking officials from the USDA, the Farm Bureau, plus Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and many state senators and representatives. At that meeting, several officials warned that agriculture nationwide is “under attack” and that “when country people get angry, it causes war.” Rouzer said nuisance “is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.” (Look for additional coverage about the roundtable on Monday.)

At that roundtable, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican turkey farmer from Duplin County said despite its legal defeats, Smithfield will continue with the remaining 20-plus nuisance trials scheduled for the rest of the year and into 2019. “I’ve had special meetings with high-level officials from Smithfield,” Dixon said. “And they said they will not settle.”

 

 

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